Half of leaders at the UK’s biggest construction contractors have said they employ sufficient numbers of women and people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, according to Construction News.
Results from the Construction News Barometer for Q4 2014 revealed that 45 per cent of respondents thought their company employed enough women, and 53 per cent said they employed a sufficient number of people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
It also found that 65 per cent said they employ a sufficient number of apprentices, while 84 per cent said they take on enough graduates.
Meanwhile, more than nine out of 10 respondents said a lack of skills or staff was among their greatest concerns over the next 12 months. However, they were more confident than in Q3, when 97 per cent flagged it as a worry.
One respondent commented that their company searches for “the most appropriate people to employ” among women, ethnic minorities, apprentices, graduates and the long-term unemployed, but that “the lack of skills, experience and behavioural outlooks consistently frustrates our efforts”.
Another respondent said their company would “take people from all these backgrounds if we could find them”, while another claimed it employed a “good proportion” of women compared with its peers.
Commenting on the results of the Barometer, Skanska chief executive Mike Putnam slammed as “rubbish” claims that construction firms employed enough women.
“I don’t know how anyone can say that,” he said. “Most construction companies employ up to 20 per cent women – so that’s not a good enough percentage anyway, but it is also a percentage which is often skewed towards support functions.”
Overall, women continue to make up just 12 per cent of the construction workforce, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, while the number of people completing a construction apprenticeship halved between 2008 and 2013, to just 7,280.
Constructing Excellence chief executive Don Ward said even firms that wanted to improve diversity were still “recruiting from the same pool”.
He said company leaders who feel they are doing enough “will be making a poor judgment”. “It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous: the first step is to realise you have a problem and to be open about it.”
TrustMark chair Liz Male said that gender diversity in the industry has improved in recent years.
“If I look back at when I first started working with construction organisations in the 1980s and 90s, it’s dramatically different to how it used to be,” she said.
“But it depends which part of construction you’re looking at. If it’s site-based it’s better than it was but it’s obviously still not equal.”
“There is a big need and a big opportunity to stand up and address diversity and inclusion in all its respects”
CN Barometer respondent
In the latest Barometer, 39 per cent expected staff turnover in 2015 to be between 6 and 10 per cent, and 35 per cent expected it to be more than 10 per cent.
One respondent said the loss of continuity caused by staff turnover would lead to problems on jobs, while others said it made it more difficult to grow and that it took time to find good-quality replacements.
As the UK prepares for an election in May, 58 per cent said they were concerned about the general election stalling construction activity, up from 51 per cent in Q3, and 31 per cent said they were concerned about a change in government.
Confidence in the coalition’s post-election infrastructure plans appeared to increase, with 82 per cent either slightly or strongly agreeing that its plans for infrastructure investment after 2015 would be a significant boost to the industry, up from 74 per cent in Q3.
Thirty-nine per cent either slightly or strongly agreed that a Labour government would spend more on infrastructure than a Conservative-led government, reflecting similar confidence levels in Q3.
One respondent described their outlook for construction in 2015 as “positive, and optimistic of sustained growth; however, still cautious that confidence could be knocked very quickly”.
“As a main contractor we are seeing huge volatility in our subcontractor tender returns. Predicting inflation in two to three years is impossible”
CN Barometer respondent
A number commented that they expected cost inflation to be a major challenge in the year ahead, and one said they expected main contractor insolvencies.
“As a main contractor we are seeing huge volatility in our subcontractor tender returns. Predicting inflation in two to three years is impossible,” another respondent commented.
Asked about problem contracts, only 19 per cent were confident that they had none within their business, while 74 per cent said they expected problem contracts to cost their business up to £25m in 2015 and 6 per cent said they expected them to cost more than £51m.
The Construction News Barometer is a survey sent to chief executives, chairmen and senior directors of the top 100 contractors in the UK, ranked according to turnover.
The survey contained a total of 26 questions and was open from 11 December 2014 until 2 January 2015. It was completed by 32 industry leaders.
55% would agree to payment charter
The Construction Leadership Council’s construction supply chain payment charter includes a commitment to reduce payment terms to the supply chain to 45 days from June 2015.
In the Barometer, 55 per cent said their companies would agree to the charter, while 13 per cent said they would not and 32 per cent said they did not know.
Asked about the barriers to signing up to the charter, one respondent said: “There is no barrier to payment within 45 days, but [we] will not sign up to the requirement to use project bank accounts or to not withhold retentions.
“Where we have a project bank account the client does not pay on time.”
The charter also sets out an ambition that no retentions will be withheld by 2025 and a commitment to use project bank accounts on central government projects from 2015.
One respondent said: “A degree of retention must be set depending on the financial covenant of the parties.”
Another said: “We already pay generally within those terms so don’t see the need to sign up to another set of rules dealing with the same thing.”