Advice from women in the construction industry

In celebration of the women working in the construction industry today, Dickies Workwear spoke with five ladies who all work in different fields in the sector to find out how they got started, their views on the industry and their advice for women looking to follow in their footsteps. 

How to become a female construction worker

1. Do an apprenticeship and earn whilst you learn.
2. Achieve a qualification in construction.
3. Learn construction skills whilst doing a Traineeship (England and Wales only)
4. Do work experience to get a taster of the construction industry.

Find out what it's really like

Farah Naz - Sustainability Associate for BuroHappold Engineering

farah naz

Tell us about your role in the trade industry?

I work as a Sustainability Associate for BuroHappold Engineering in their Dubai office in the UAE region.

My role is very dynamic, with the recent shifts taking place in the UAE on measures for adaption to climate change. In my point of view it is the best place to be, and act as a catalyst for positive change. I work on a range of projects across the UAE with local and international architects and developers.

My work consists of providing strategic advice on sustainability and environmental design to architects, LEED and Estidama Environmental Assessments, client engagement and project management to deliver low energy buildings to communities across the region.      

How did you get into the industry?

I grew up in a very creative and design-oriented environment. When I was growing up, I was always interested in design and understanding how things work.

After high school, I joined an architectural engineering programme which combined design and building service engineering. I graduated in 2002, with Tau Alpha Pi Honours from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, MA, USA. As a student, I worked part-time in different architectural and engineering offices in Boston, which gave me great insight into the construction profession. 

My interest in sustainable architecture grew while I was working in South East Asia. I was fortunate to obtain a scholarship to do post-graduate studies in Sustainable Environmental Design, in the world-renowned Architectural Association, in London, UK. I met an engineer there, had a great conversation and the next day started working for an engineering consultancy, now known as Ramboll, in their London office. I was fortunate to be the sustainability design engineer for the zero carbon school Crouch Hill Community Park in the London borough of Islington. 

The project was completed in 2013 and recently won the RIBA National award (2015) and RIBA London Regional Sustainability Award (2015).  

What made you want to get into this profession?

I agree with Ralph J. Smith who said, “Engineering is the professional art of applying science to the optimum conversion of natural resources to the benefit of man.” For me engineering is a combination of art and science. As a sustainability engineer I can be both the designer and the scientist in making positive contributions to the built environment.

I have a keen interest for design, especially integrative design where I can work with the architects, owners and all the stakeholders in creating a positive impact for the built environment.  

What are your views on the construction industry as it stands?

I worked in the construction sector in the USA, South East Asia and UK before moving to the UAE. The construction industry is very dynamic. In one lifetime, I’ve had the honour to see how technology and innovation can change the way we build and experience the built environment. In the UK, the construction industry contributes almost £90 billion to the UK economy.

It comprises over 280,000 businesses covering some 2.93 million jobs. But UK businesses are still facing a skills gap, in mining, energy, engineering and construction, with a chronic shortage of skilled employees. I believe this skills gap can be addressed by starting at a very early age in primary and secondary school levels.

Encouraging our children to be inspired and take an active role in building our society. It is our role as engineers, to reflect the passion we felt when we joined this profession and spread the word to a diverse range of audiences. I am passionate about encouraging future generations and supporting young engineers’ personal and professional development, to flourish and become future industry leaders.   I have been involved in a few industry initiatives to promote the engineering profession:

  • Women in Building Services Engineering (WIBSE) - Steering Group member
  • Women in Sustainable Construction and property (WSCP)- Past Co chair
  • Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineering HCSE Region (CIBSE) – Past Secretary
  • CIBSE Knowledge Portal - Sub Committee Member

 My vision is to encourage future engineering leaders, create, support and empower more woman engineers, and to share knowledge, skills and expertise, build strong networking environment crossing the borders of different disciplines and sectors.  

Why do you enjoy working in the industry?

or me three things are very important - where you work, who you work with and what you do (or how you contribute in the industry to make a positive impact). The construction sector is about teamwork and integrative design processes. It’s also about people. In order to make any positive contribution to the environment and society, we as engineers have a responsibility.

Our design decisions impact not only what we build but how people experience and live in the spaces that we build. With my team, we not only get involved in doing some great engineering but we work with local architects and designers in creating awareness on sustainable design thinking, sharing knowledge, indigenous and holistic design principles and the value of liveable cities. Thinking about the health and wellbeing of the occupants and the construction workers, and how we as engineers can make a positive impact, is key.  

The construction industry is one of the most exciting industry to be in, and there is so much diversity and opportunity in the work we do. From designing spaces on the drawing board to advising on life cycle benefits of materials, we have a unique chance to create a positive impact on every part of the built environment. In the construction sector there is never a static moment – it’s always dynamic and evolving. It’s how we choose to contribute and what we aim to contribute that brings the value.  

What advice do you have for other women keen to get into construction?

Construction historian Dr Christine Well has confirmed that women were involved in the construction of Waterloo Bridge from 1937 to 1942. If you look around the world, women have been involved heavily in the construction activities and on site throughout history. To give an example, in India construction is the third largest employer of woman, with 5.7 million women working on construction sites every day. Gender shouldn’t be the prerogative defining factor for what one chooses to do. My advice to both men and women would be to choose what you want to do and do it well.    

Heather Blemings - Director at Gipping Homes

heather blemings

Tell us about your role in the trade industry?

I began as a bench joiner in 1986. I was then asked by a friend to launch a builder merchant in 1989 and had this role for 12 years, during which time I also ran a Brick Remedial Company offering brick tinting and cleaning to brick manufacturers and developers.

I travelled all over the country surveying sites and pricing work for my gangs of men to undertake. Today I act as a buyer and handle the property sales for Gipping Homes.  

How did you get into the industry?

I joined the industry by accident really – I had sold a catering company and was looking for something to do, and the bench joinery  opportunity came up so I took it on.  

What made you want to get into this profession?

I have always been in business for myself and enjoy being my own boss. I am very self-motivated and enjoy working in a male environment. Therefore going into the building trade with my husband seemed a natural step and after over 20 years I am still in the industry.  

What exciting developments have you seen in the industry since you started?

One of the most exciting was the development of a brick tinting process – I worked with London Brick in their laboratories developing the technique which is still in use today. Construction is always changing whether in products or in health and safety processes. The important thing is to change with the times and help others manage that change.  


Why do you enjoy working in the industry?

As previously stated, I enjoy working in a male environment.  I also find that life on site can be very exciting and having to make design decisions on a day to day basis certainly gives me an adrenalin rush!  

What would you say to people who think that construction and trade work are only for men?

I would say come and take a look and try all the areas on offer.  The roles on offer can appeal to so many skills from architects, surveyors, site managers, Health and Safety officers down to site workers.  Some of the best plumbers I hear are women!  With today’s modern site practices it's no longer a problem with having to be strong and lift heavy weights.  

What advice do you have for other women keen to get into construction/trade?

The best advice I can give is talk to someone involved and come to site to take a look, the building industry is a welcoming environment.  Decide if you want to work for a big mulit-national and travel the world, or a smaller company where you can experience so many aspects of the job.

Don’t listen to the careers advisers who will tell girls to be hairdresser if they don’t get their grades.  Seek out an apprenticeship in the construction industry as we are so desperately short of skilled staff in all areas and this would be a good area to have a career in.  

Emma Williams - Forklift Instructor & Business Owner at Phoenix Training

emma williams

Tell us about your role in the trade industry?

I am the sole owner and manager of a fork lift and MHE training company. I am also an ITSSAR registered fork lift instructor as well as a City & Guilds qualified manual handling instructor.  

How did you get into the industry?

I started in the company as the receptionist. The job was taken as a stop-gap whilst I gained some office skills. As I had a background in training I was moved from the admin side of the business, after a year, on to a Government funded contract delivering job seeker skills training to the unemployed.

This role lasted for 8 years. I was then brought back in to the fork lift side of the company and started to take over the role of one the directors, who was terminally ill. The following year I purchased the company from the two directors and have been running the company for almost 6 years.  

What made you want to get into this profession?

I wanted to join the company, initially, as I had always enjoyed training. Initial talks with the directors, prior to my joining the organisation, indicated that I would be trained as a fork lift instructor eventually. I have always been fascinated with machinery and how it all works so I saw this as a challenge.  

What exciting developments have you seen in the industry since you started?

There have been a number of changes to the industry over the past 15 years. Most recently being the formation of the Accrediting Bodies Association Workplace Transport (ABA). The ABA is growing closer to ensuring all training conducted by accredited training organisations, regardless of their accrediting body, is at the same standard.

Each of the accrediting bodies that are members of the ABA now operate their own registration schemes for operators. This does mean that training companies who are not providing the correct standard of training or who are operating unaccredited will start to disappear, I hope.  

Why do you enjoy working in the industry?

I really enjoy working in the industry as I love how the machines operate and move. Fork lift trucks that are operated correctly can be beautiful to watch in motion. I also enjoy the fact that I am a woman in the industry and I get remembered by people who I meet. In our area a lot of people now refer to me as the fork lift lady. The industry itself has thousands of employed, sub-contracted and self-employed instructors so to be remembered makes me stand out, and I like that!  

What would you say to people who think that construction and trade work are only for men?

Rubbish! Long gone are the days that it was a male only industry. In the logistics sector over the past five years we have seen an increase in the number of female fork lift operators as well as fork lift instructors.  

What advice do you have for other women keen to get into construction/trade?

Do it! If it is something you want to do, pursue it.  

Jessica Lowther - Apprentice at CA Group

jessica lowther

Tell us about your role in the construction industry?

I joined CA Group in February this year as an apprentice. My main role involves confirming and issuing materials to production orders on the SAP computer system and then monitoring how those materials are utilised within the business.

As the first point of contact when material deliveries come into the system, attention to detail is crucial. Often I check, check and check again to ensure the numbers I input are correct.   As an apprentice, I get a really good understanding of how the company works and it's really interesting to see the manufacturing process from the start, when the sheets are made in the factory, to finish, when our buildings are completed.  

What made you want to get into this profession?

My dad is a director at CA Group and even when I was little he would bring me into the office. When we discussed my career options he encouraged me to pursue what interested me and as construction was a passion of his, I was keen to learn more.  

What exciting developments have you seen in the industry since you started?

I used to come to the site with my dad when I was 10, seven years later one thing that strikes me is the increasingly prominent role which technology is playing. It feels like a really exciting time to be joining the construction industry.  We are recruiting, so there are plenty of new faces around and there's a real buzz around the building, driven by the growth which we have experienced over the past 18 months.  

Why do you enjoy working in the industry?

My role is extremely varied, as an apprentice I am constantly learning new skills and there are lots of opportunities to specialise in different areas. I am really looking forward to learning more about the business so that I can decide where I want to develop my career.  

What would you say to people who think that construction work is only for men?

The days of women staying at home and men going out to work are long gone. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes are more difficult to avoid in an industry which has been so male dominated for such a long time, but unless more women move into the sector the stereotype will never change. Construction is a huge industry with countless roles, it is not just about lifting heavy loads. There are plenty of opportunities for women in construction, as there are in any industry.  

What advice do you have for other women keen to get into construction?

If you are interested in construction you should go for it! Accept that you are entering a male dominated sector but that you have just as much to offer as any male colleague. Don't take any negative comments to heart, just give 100% in the job role and prove that you can do it. Schools need to rethink their careers advice. There is still a lot of gender stereotyping that goes on. I was encouraged to pursue a career in teaching and admin but never in traditionally male driven industries, which really limited my options.  

Katie Sayers - Business Administrator at CA Group

katie sayers

Tell us about your role in the construction industry?

I joined the company last year as an apprentice in the position of business administrator and have since moved into a permanent role with the business. My role is to ensure that all our people on site have everything they need.

I manage the flow of information about the job in question, make sure the orders are sent out to the site managers to avoid miscommunication and ensure nothing goes missing. Essentially I make sure that everything runs smoothly - it's a pretty important role. I work closely with the draughtsmen, ensuring drawings are up to date, and even do some drawing myself, which is just one of the skills I have developed since I joined CA Group.  

How did you get into the industry?

 did some work experience at CA Group during the summer holidays and I gave them a call when I was coming to the end of my final school year to see if there were any vacancies. They offered me an apprenticeship in business administration which was perfect as it gave me an opportunity to get a real understanding for how the business works. I left school on the Friday and was at work the following Monday. Once my apprenticeship was complete they offered me a full-time role.  

What made you want to get into this profession?

I have always been fascinated by buildings, I like to see how things work. CA Group is very local to me and it has a good reputation for looking after its employees. There's lots to learn and it's pretty unusual - I like to see the reaction I get from people when I tell them I work in construction!  

What exciting developments have you seen in the industry since you started?

Speaking from the perspective of the area I work in specifically, when I first started there was no official business admin role so communication wasn't great. This has really improved since they made the role official. It's amazing how having someone take ownership of the role can nip any problems in the bud before they have a chance to grow.  

Why do you enjoy working in the industry?

Construction is so varied, no two days are the same. I like the fact that I get to go out on site a lot and see our team in action.  

What would you say to people who think that construction and trade work are only for men?

Increasingly the lines are becoming blurred as more women take on traditionally male roles. There's no reason why women can't do the same roles as men and as more and more women realise this, the face of the industry will change. It's an exciting time to be a woman in construction!  

What advice do you have for other women keen to get into construction/trade?

Go for it! I love it here and wouldn't want to work in any other sector. It can be hard and sometimes you can be underestimated, but that just encourages me to work even harder to prove just how right I am for the role.   A huge thank you to our inspiring contributors from all of us at Dickies Workwear! Are you a woman working in construction or trade? We'd love to hear your story! Comment below or message us on Facebook and you could be featured!

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