Women in modular: Addressing construction’s age old gender imbalance

11th March, 2021

The construction industry has traditionally been a field dominated by men, with a whopping 87.5% of construction workers out of the two million in the UK being male. There are certainly countless reasons for this disparity, but the modular housing industry is well positioned to help redress this gender imbalance.

Despite these figures, the culture of the construction industry is changing rapidly, with positive movements being made towards diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The increasing demand for houses to be built quickly and efficiently is creating a greater need for workers of all genders and backgrounds to join the industry, as they work together to fight the housing shortage.

The number of women working in the industry is now on the rise, with 37% of new entrants into construction coming from higher education being female. Yet there still needs to be more initiatives to drive gender equality within the workplace.

Modular housing, as a relatively nascent subsector of the industry, is immediately more attractive, explains Kerry Gooch, senior architectural technologist at TopHat, because "it doesn't necessarily have the same preconceptions as traditional construction" often seen as a male dominated industry. Kerry sees modular housing as progressive industry, and the future for construction in more ways than one.

While in traditional construction workers might be spread all over the country, working on different aspects, that's not the case in the factory. Kerry remarks: "In the factory, we all have a common goal, we're all working collaboratively to make the same product".

Factories, such as TopHat's, are able to recruit workers with no former qualifications or experience in the industry and provide extensive in-house training to get them working right away on production.

Innovative tech within the factories can also help with hiring a more diverse range of people as there are less demands on the physical skills required. Construction workers in TopHat's factories are just as likely to be programming robots as they are plastering a wall, and this may help battle stereotypes dictating that physical strength is advantageous in construction.

In addition to those offered on the shop floor, modular can offer skilled jobs across science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as architecture.

Amber Smith, who came into the construction industry from architecture, is a design lead for TopHat. Amber's reason for joining TopHat was she "could see modular was a way forward to provide a scalable solution to the housing crisis". She wanted to be involved in "the progressive side of the building industry and saw an opportunity to use her skills to help improve the quality of homes for the general public".  

TopHat is a multi-disciplinary construction company, with most parts of the process taking place in house. Amber explains that "while working on design, you get the opportunity to work alongside skilled professionals across a variety of disciplines, such as, procurement, structural and services engineering, and a range of trades on the shop floor. It is a great place to understand all parts of the process first-hand, and work together closely from the early stages of design to completion of the homes". 

In comparison to traditional construction, the range of jobs involved means modular can offer professional careers in a permanent place of working, which also has the opportunity for split shifts, and agile working therefore providing more stable positions for those with families.

Kerry continued: "There's definitely a growing move towards equality in the industry in general, but in particular with this company. One of the things that attracted me to TopHat was seeing that there were influential women in senior roles which showed to me that there would be equal opportunity for career progression."

TopHat believes modular housing has a critical role to play in creating equality within the construction industry and through improved training and working conditions encourages those of all genders and backgrounds to consider a career in modular manufacturing.

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