The UK's construction industry employs around 1.4 million people. Over the past decade, gender equality in the industry has actually become worse. Figures from the Department of Trade and Industry show that in 1992, the industry employed 184,000 women and 1,662,000 men. Ten years later, the number of male employees had risen to 1,773,000, but the figure for women remained the same.
So, while women make up 48% of the UK workforce, they account for only 10% in the construction industry. Meanwhile, the industry itself needs to attract 76,000 new recruits each year just to keep up with demand.
Thomas Vale Construction is one of the UK's leading construction companies, operating throughout the UK in diverse sectors ranging from housing to healthcare, and transport to education.
Forum Training is wholly owned by Thomas Vale and provides training for new entrants to the industry. It acts as a way in to the industry in general, as well as providing trained recruits for Thomas Vale.
In early 2004, Forum Training applied for European Social Funding (ESF) to help encourage women into the construction industry. Offering the chance to gain an NVQ, the scheme placed women on the Worcester Community Housing Associa-tion project, refurbishing the kitchens and bathrooms of around 6,000 properties.
"We were primarily looking for women returners," says Jayne Sloane, managing director of Forum Training. "We did a big blanket advertising campaign in all the local free papers in Worcester and advertised in the four local estates where the work was going to be carried out."
Emphasising the potential for a career in the construction industry, the initiative attracted 50 applicants. They were then whittled down to five, who started working towards a streamlined NVQ in kitchen fitting in October 2004.
Attracting women into these positions was only half the battle - they then had to be trained.
"Because Thomas Vale doesn't directly employ labour, we had to work with sub-contractors to give the women the experience they needed," says Sloane. "We didn't know what kind of a response we'd get as they're paid for the number of kitchens they produce. They could have taken the attitude that showing someone what to do would slow them down. But in reality, they have been very supportive."
Another hurdle was that if women with young children were to be attracted