However, when it comes to achieving more equitable gender representation in our industry, we have faced unique challenges that are not always obvious at first glance.
The stereotypical explanation to this conundrum is that women are generally less likely to want to enter the construction sector. However, our experience has shown that the issue is much more nuanced than one might imagine. One of our biggest challenges has been showcasing the many opportunities that exist in the sector for suitably qualified individuals, particularly before they are lost to other industries or the professional consultancy services arena. The general misconception in the marketplace is that construction is simply not a glamorous industry, which makes it difficult for us to compete for talent with large engineering firms.
In many ways, this is an issue that impacts us across the board regardless of gender. We often find that young graduates or newly matriculated learners only spend as much time as they need to on-site in order to earn their qualification or desired title before moving on to more office-oriented roles.
Nevertheless, over the last 10 years we have seen a fundamental shift in the demographic and gender balance of the South African construction and building sectors. The result has seen a host of talented women moving into previously male dominated fields such as architecture, engineering and quantity surveying. Currently at Enza about 20% of our workforce is comprised of women, up from roughly 13% just a decade ago, or conversely up from 26 females 10 years ago to 129 now. One of the highlights of this statistic is that the women involved are not just in support roles like human resources, finance, administration and marketing but are employed in core construction positions such as site agents, crane operators or quantity surveyors. We even have a female site foreman (who incidentally objects to being called a forewoman saying she is just as good as any man in the role so doesn’t need a different title). Just over 2% of our workforce is also disabled, many of them women as well.
Yet the building side of our business still remains an area where we would like to see greater female representation. Being a transformation-driven company, we continue to seek out previously disadvantaged individuals, and women in particular, with strong CVs who we believe can play a role in helping to change the face of the industry. We firmly believe that it is incumbent upon companies in the sector to do all that they can to give the younger generation an opportunity to gain experience the construction field.
Our learnership programme, which typically runs in the 12-months to June, in line with our financial year, is one such example and is specifically aimed at trying to recruit more women into key construction roles. Between 60% and 70% of our most recent intake into our talent programmes, which included 10 university graduates and 30 newly matriculated learners, comprised of women. This is despite the fact that, on average, we get significantly more men applying for these opportunities. Part of the reason for this is that there tends to be far more male graduates in the three key qualifications we look for, namely BSc Building Science, Quantity Surveying and Civil Engineering.
However, we are working with universities and professors to identify female talent early on in an effort to steer them towards the sector. We participate in graduate recruitment expos and visit educational institutions around the country in September and October each year to meet with students and start building our future talent pipeline.
University graduates are typically rotated throughout the business so they can pick up as much broad experience as possible before being deployed into the area of specialisation they are most suited to or where their interest lies. Our matric learners are typically engaged in entry level positions such as business administration, site clerks, safety officers, office administrators and receptionists. After a period of one year they are usually either employed full-time in our own business or placed with other companies.
By helping to showcase the opportunities in the sector we aim to raise the profile of construction industry and make it an employer of choice for the nation’s youth. Thus far, we don’t believe there has been sufficient exposure of the opportunities that exist in the sector. We’re hoping to change that, one learner at a time.