Changing the Face of Home Maintenance Teams
8th March 2021
It’s no secret that women are under-represented in the construction industry.
In the social housing sector the figures are stark. Research commissioned by Mears’ Women into Maintenance Steering Group, suggests that only 1% of trade operatives who work in this area are female.
Until quite recently whg reflected these statistics, with just one female trade colleague and two female apprentices in its Homes Maintenance Services team. The leading Midland’s landlord was keen to tackle this lack of diversity and sought to find new ways to boost the recruitment of women into construction trades.
Head of Human Resources Victoria Roden explained: “We recognise the importance of having a workforce that represents the communities we serve.
“Gender diversity in trades based roles is an issue across all sectors and this is due to low numbers of women opting to enter trades professions. Working in collaboration with our Employment and Training team, Project UPLIFT has helped us address this gender imbalance. We opened up opportunities for women to work in a Trades role whilst also supporting our customers into work.”
Project UPLIFT, a pilot to encourage more women into the construction sector was launched in March 2019. Working with a range of partners, including Walsall College, the DWP and local contractors, the scheme combined hands on training with on-site work experience to give the ten women participating the best possible chance of finding work. Flexible course times, to fit in with the school day, ensured that participants were able to fit the programme around family commitments. The women spent the first six weeks learning skills in painting and decorating and tiling, as well as gaining an understanding of health and safety requirements at work.
A three week work placement then followed, where the women worked alongside contractors to decorate and spruce up communal areas at Butcroft House, one of whg’s wellbeing schemes, in Darlaston. Alongside the practical skills development, whg’s Employment and Skills Team provided interview preparation training and support.
The project was a huge success, with 82% of participants gaining employment as a result. Five of the women went on to secure carpentry, plumbing and plastering apprenticeships with whg’s own Homes Maintenance Services team.
For the women who took part, the experience has been life changing.
Following a seven-year career break, single mum of six Amanda Smith secured a position as an apprentice carpenter with whg.
She said: “The UPLIFT programme definitely uplifted me – I have never felt better. It changed my life.”
Project UPLIFT is not the not the only way whg is increasing the representation of women in one of its core areas of business. Through its aim of growing talent from within and investing in its colleagues whg is attracting more female talent into management positions within its asset teams. Nicki Dilks, for example, is one of whg’s success stories. Nicki started her career as a cashier at Walsall Council, before moving over to whg when it was formed. After several different roles whg offered her the opportunity to complete a degree in Social Housing. Nicki then took part in whg’s own leadership academy, which gave her the management skills needed to progress. She is a now a Planning Manager, overseeing the smooth allocation and roll out of repairs.
She said: “I never thought I would end up where I am now, and I’m so privileged to have been given the opportunities I have.”
Victoria added: “Whilst we are committed to increasing the number of women in trades roles we do recognise that there are no easy, short term fix. Therefore we will continue to work on longer term strategies through our wider approach to equality, diversity and inclusion.”