Green Deal's gender agenda

8 April 2011

Niki Luscombe

Meeting carbon targets will create openings ideally suited to women, says Niki Luscombe — as long as we can train them first

“Transforming the built environment to low carbon could provide the industry with a 40-year programme of work and act as a springboard to growth for more than 200,000 small businesses in the sector”. That’s the verdict of in the final report of the Low Carbon Construction Innovation and Growth Team (IGT).

With all the new training and the potential employment opportunities in green skills, will this lead to a more gender-balanced workforce — plugging the skills gap by plugging the gender gap? At Women and Manual Trades, many of our tradeswomen members are already upskilling to ensure they have the capability to meet future demand for green retrofits — for example expanding from plumbing into solar installation.

WAMT core membership mainly comprises micro-businesses already operating in a highly competitive market. The tradeswomen mostly work in the domestic sector, being commissioned for home improvement work. But with the domestic market viewed as a growth area for installing green technologies, assisted by feed-in tariffs and new Green Deal funding mechanisms, our members are keen to access new work streams, in both installation and consultancy.

Already, charismatic female leaders are emerging in the field of environmental technologies, such as Ruth McGuigan, director of Horizon Renewables. At a recent WAMT conference, she argued that women needed to grasp these opportunities now and called for more female electricians, roofers, fitters, engineers and surveyors, as well as roles for women in office based jobs such as project management, purchasing, technical sales, designing and estimating. 

Homeowners and clients who use WAMT’s Find A Tradeswoman Directory online often tell us that they prefer tradeswomen working in their homes and report excellent customer service. And women who use the service say they are more comfortable asking questions of tradeswomen without feeling stupid. According to a survey from, a website that links homeowners to recommended tradespeople, more than 50% of women would prefer to commission a tradeswoman to work on their homes. At WAMT’s women-only DIY courses, 100% of the women who take part say they would opt for a tradeswoman, given the choice.

Evidently, installation companies are also starting to acknowledge the purchasing power of women too. It comes as no surprise that brochures offering PV installations/solar solutions I have received recently are directing their marketing at women. It would be great if they could go one step further and offer more tradeswomen to carry out the work.

But there aren’t enough tradeswomen around. Research from the Office of National Statistics’ labour market survey and CITB-ConstructionSkills shows only around 1% of the construction workforce is represented by women in craft roles.

We need to view the green agenda as a tool to help rebalance the gender profile of the industry. Apprenticeships and training in construction skills are typically “marketed” with a focus on technical skills and the practical nature of the job. That’s certainly true, but more stress on the environmental issues — which impact on our long-term future, homes and lifestyles — could help tip the balance in attracting more women into our industry.

Niki Luscombe is chief executive of Women and Manual Trades,

Five ways to...make your training budget stretch further

01 Identify the training needs of employees

Assess the training needs of your managers using a tool such as the National Construction College’s (NCC) Leadership and Management Diagnostics Programme, a web-based programme based on an online questionnaire. A report then gives business advice on the courses that will bridge any skills gaps identified. Access to the diagnostics programme is available for £500 for up to 10 participants and £700 for up to 20 participants.

02 On-site training

Training courses provided close to or at your business ensure that time is spent wisely and staff travel costs are kept to a minimum. A number of training organisations offer bespoke onsite training, where prices are often significantly lower per head compared to public courses.

03 Refresher training

Health and safety is a key refresher area, where courses are designed to support, build and develop understanding and implementation of health and safety practice, as well as bringing new legislative requirements to the foreground. Refresher courses are cost-effective and help businesses ensure their workers are operating under best practice and updated working methods.

04 Online training

Online training is a great way to provide standardised teaching to large groups and offers flexibility and affordability. In some instances it is even preferred, to limit time away from the workplace and can be done at a time that suits workers. The NCC will be launching a Learner Management System in May 2011, which will deliver a range of online content, structured e-learning programmes and the ability for employers to monitor apprentices’ progress with the college online. Prices start from around £50 per person.

05 Apprenticeships

These offer young people the best route into the industry while supporting the business that employs them. The return on their investment is well documented and they ensure the industry avoids future skills gaps. Training grants for apprenticeships are available from CITB-ConstructionSkills and range from £5,200 for a level 2 apprenticeship to £9,000 for a full level 3 apprentice.

Nigel Donohue, head of business development services at the National Construction College.

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