Investing in Future Female Talent - Social Outcomes - ISCouncil

Investing in Future Female Talent – Social Outcomes

Tuesday, 17 October 2023

Describe WHAT you have done and HOW you have done it.

In an industry which is known for being traditionally male-dominated, young women face significant barriers to entry into the construction industry due to the lack of examples, networks, support, and diversity. The South Eastern Program Alliance (SEPA) recognises this challenge and has set the objective to encourage and support more female talent into the construction industry. SEPA aims to create an equally balanced representation of both men and women within the industry and foster an inclusive environment.

To attract, retain and develop young women in the construction industry, strategic interventions and long-term investments are essential. Without a targeted approach, some areas will continue to have an inadequate representation of women, especially site-based delivery roles.

SEPA has proactively lead change by developing the “Female Apprenticeship Program” and leveraging alliance partner, Laing O’Rourke’s “Inspiring STEM+ Program” which also incorporates a schools engagement program.

In partnership with Australian Industry Group (AIG), SEPA and AIG provide traineeships for females, offering them the opportunity to obtain a Cert III in Civil Construction. By providing upskilling and reskilling opportunities, SEPA enables women to overcome the challenges of entering the construction industry and build meaningful long-term careers with stability and financial independence. This initiative not only addresses the skill gap but also demonstrates SEPA’s commitment to gender equality.

SEPA, in collaboration with education partner, Melbourne Girls’ College, contributed to the Inspiring STEM+ Program. Launched in 2020, this program aims to broaden student perceptions of the construction industry and showcases the diverse roles and opportunities that exist within it. By exposing young girls to the possibilities in construction, SEPA hopes to inspire them to consider careers in this traditionally male-dominated industry. The STEM program also aligns to SEPA’s commitment to the Level Crossing Removal Project, as it contributes to filling 50 per cent of positions within the Graduate Development Program with women, ensuring a strong talent pipeline in Victoria.

Furthermore, SEPA worked with the Yarra Valley Technical School on a school engagement program, given its close proximity to the Mooroolbark and Manchester Road level crossing removal project. As part of the program, the students developed a 3D model of the project, including painting and assembly of this life-like model. Working with several female engineers on the 3D model project gave the girls exposure and insight into the realities, and possibilities, of working in the construction industry.

SEPA’s initiatives form part of a long-term strategy to challenge industry perceptions and empower diversity. By actively recruiting and investing in female workers, SEPA not only taps into a significantly larger talent pool but also addresses the gender imbalance in the construction industry. When more women succeed and excel in the industry, they become role models and sources of inspiration for future generations, breaking down gender barriers and encouraging more young girls to pursue careers in construction.

What were the OUTCOMES and how were those outcomes shared?

Through our Female Apprenticeship Program, and leveraging Laing O’Rourke’s Inspiring STEM+ Program and Schools Program, we have successfully transformed the landscape of the industry and opened doors of opportunity for women.

The Female Apprenticeship Program has been a game-changer for women in the construction industry. Over the course of two years, eight talented and determined females enrolled in the program, all of whom successfully completed their Certificate III in Civil Construction. As a result, they interviewed for ongoing work in the industry, with over half of them choosing to remain at SEPA.

These exceptional women brought a fresh perspective to SEPA, positively influencing our culture and work ethic. The skills and knowledge they acquired on-site have significantly increased their employability across various construction projects in Victoria. Moreover, their participation has paved the way for a growing pipeline of women in construction, ensuring long-term development opportunities across iconic infrastructure projects.

The outcomes of our Female Apprenticeship Program were widely shared to create broader awareness and support for the initiative. We celebrated their accomplishments within SEPA on International Women's Day, showcasing the program's success and inspiring others. Additionally, we shared the outcomes with one of our alliance parent companies, Laing O’Rourke, to share across their national landscape. We presented to the Industry, Capability, and Inclusion JCC, which led to our program informing a pilot program initiated by the Level Crossing Removal Project. This program was recently launched, further expanding the impact of our Female Apprenticeship Program.

The Inspiring STEM+ Program has proven to be a catalyst for engaging girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and opening their eyes to the diverse career options within the construction industry. Through two successfully completed programs, we have witnessed a surge in interest, with more girls expressing a desire to participate in future iterations.

This program has broadened the visibility of STEM and construction careers for the next generation. By providing students with opportunities for work experience, internships, and potential enrolment in the Laing O’Rourke Graduate Development Program, there is now a solidified pathway for their continued growth and development. Notably, four out of seventeen program participants have already undertaken valuable work experience placements.

The outcomes have been extensively shared with key stakeholders to ensure the program's continued success. We presented the results to the Women in Construction network, which comprises all alliance partners and principal contractors in the industry. Moreover, Laing O'Rourke, has been actively receiving interns and graduates from the program, demonstrating the success of the program across the industry.

The Schools Program, in collaboration with Yarra Valley School provided valuable opportunities for young people to learn about careers in construction. From the partnership, SEPA was given the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion focused on discussing diversity and providing equal opportunities.

The outcomes of the Schools Program have been shared through various channels. We spoke about the program during forums held on International Women's Day, emphasising the program's impact on empowering young individuals. Additionally, we continue to share our outcomes through the Industry, Capability, and Inclusion JCC, ensuring broad visibility and engagement with alliance partners. Our documentation, which outlines the program's best practices, is readily available on TeamBinder for other alliances to adopt.

Describe WHO benefited from your initiative, innovation, or approach?

We have successfully increased the representation and participation of women and gender diverse individuals. By breaking down barriers and providing a supportive environment, we’ve encouraged more women to join the industry with the confidence and skills necessary to thrive in construction, contributing to a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

The Inspiring STEM+ Program has played a crucial role in providing students with a solid foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, essential for the construction industry. Empowering young women, by instilling in them an understanding of the core concepts and developing technical skills that are directly applicable to construction-related tasks. By nurturing their interest in STEM subjects, we’ve opened doors to exciting career opportunities in the industry.

Our initiatives have effectively challenged traditional stereotypes surrounding gender roles in the industry. By actively promoting the inclusion of women, we’ve overcome biases and prejudices, fostering a more equal and respectful work environment for all workers. Contributing to a more diverse, skilled, and inclusive workforce, leading to greater innovation, improved collaboration, and increased opportunities for women and the industry.

Construction projects require effective teamwork and collaboration. A gender diverse workforce brings together different perspectives and experiences, thereby enhancing teamwork and promoting better communication.

The women who participated have received a broad level of support in developing themselves both in their careers and education. We have encouraged them to explore non-traditional pathways, providing mentorship, training, and networking opportunities. As a result, these women have experienced personal growth, achieved career milestones and become role models for the next tranche of women entering the industry.

The school’s program is mutually beneficial, is provides SEPA volunteers an opportunity to engage with young individuals, listen to their aspirations, and gain valuable insights. They can see the value of the role that they play as role models for the next generation of construction workers, resulting in job satisfaction and a sense of pride in what they're contributing to. Whilst, providing tangible, real life roles and role models for the students to envisage a career in the industry.

SEPA’s active support and promotion of gender diversity in the industry has had a significant impact on the industry’s reputation. By leading by example, we have inspired other organisations to follow suit and prioritise inclusivity. Our initiatives have set a precedent for positive change, encouraging the industry to embrace diversity, foster equal opportunities, and create a more welcoming and progressive industry.

What LEGACY and UN SDG CONTRIBUTION was achieved?

SEPA’s investment in women in the construction industry directly aligns with UNSDG goal 5, as it aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Actively engaging girls in STEM education and apprenticeships programs, encourages their participation in traditionally male-dominated fields, and continues to break down barriers and foster inclusivity. Through our programs at SEPA, we have created pathways for young women to pursue careers in construction and engineering, thereby contributing to gender equality and empowerment.

The Inspiring STEM+ program, designed to engage girls in STEM pathways, has already made a significant impact on the lives of the participants and the industry. Over the course of two cohorts, we have successfully delivered a series of modules, including engineering activities, site visits and talks from industry experts. The first cohort has completed the program, and the second cohort is currently underway, with an average of 20 students in each. These students are actively applying for work experience placements, and we anticipate that many of them will continue to work with Laing O’Rourke as undergraduates in the coming years, ensuring a lasting legacy of female representation in the industry.

Additionally, the program has created a platform for collaboration and opened opportunities for mutual benefit among our team, our culture, and our industry brand. By engaging with industry experts and providing students with firsthand experiences, we have fostered a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing. This collaboration has not only benefited the students but has also enriched our project teams, leading to innovative solutions and improved project outcomes. Moreover, our commitment to promoting gender diversity has enhanced our industry brand, positioning us as a leader in creating inclusivity and diversity in the industry.

The participation of our next generation of construction workers in the Female Apprenticeship program has not only contributed to the successful completion of projects at SEPA, but has also played a significant role in transforming the mindset of our supervisors. The increased interest and support from supervisors and mentors in actively sponsoring and mentoring program participants demonstrate the program's success in shifting attitudes towards supporting new entrants into the industry. As a result, we now have multiple mentors and sponsors actively engaged in the program, with ongoing expressions of interest to refer individuals to future rounds.

Through our apprenticeship program, participants have been exposed to various aspects of the construction industry, including sustainability, digital engineering, project delivery, and social procurement. This exposure has provided them with a diverse range of skills and pathways into different areas of construction. Onsite training, engagement sessions, and round table discussions with female leaders and stakeholders have further enhanced their skills and knowledge. As a result, participants have not only completed their training ahead of schedule but have also secured permanent roles within the Alliance or expressed a keen interest in remaining in the industry. Their progression into high-risk and technical roles, as well as their identification for future leadership talent programs, highlights the program's success in building a skilled and diverse workforce now and into the future.

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