Building a diverse and inclusive sector to support the transition to net-zero carbon

The construction sector is gearing up for major change with a particular focus on reducing carbon emissions in order to achieve net-zero carbon targets by 2045. To better apprehend the changes that we are currently seeing in the industry, we spoke with Douglas Morrison, Impact Director at Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC). We talked about opportunities that are emerging as a result of the profound and necessary transformation of the sector, the work done by key stakeholders to create more inclusive workplaces and how to find these employers who are committed to building a fairer, more diverse and sustainable future for all.

 

Can you tell us about what your company does and your role within the organisation?

Douglas Morrison: We are Scotland’s national innovation centre for the construction industry and our mission is to accelerate our transition to a zero-carbon built environment. In my role, I support our delivery teams to work collaboratively with industry, academia and public sector agencies to research, develop and innovate novel ways to make our practices, cleaner, safer, more productive and of a higher quality.

What is your view on the current state of the industry?

DM: I think the industry has been through a challenging 18 months but I also believe that we are in the early stages of an exciting new chapter. We are seeing an accelerated adoption of digital technologies, an increased awareness of the climate emergency and growing desire to develop a workforce that is representative of our society. All of this gives me hope for a construction industry that can radically, and positively, transform over the coming years.

How do you see your sector evolving in the next 5 years? What skills are or will be in high demand tomorrow?

DM: The sector is currently focused on resolving supply chain and procurement challenges as well as being engaged in the largest engineering project we have ever seen; decarbonising heat and energy alongside our built assets. This will require a whole range of new skills but also deeper collaboration with other sectors. Digital and data related skills are certainly in high demand, as are skills relating to retrofit activity. We can also expect to see a significant transformation in the skillsets of the existing workforce. There really are such a diverse range of employment opportunities within the construction industry so there are potential career paths for everyone, regardless of skillset or areas of interest.

What role can employers in Scotland play to build a fairer STEM labour market?

DM: It’s frustrating that we haven’t seen more progress in developing a workforce that is representative of our society. There’s lots of examples of great work being done within the industry to develop more inclusive and equitable working environments, but recruiting and retaining people from historically underrepresented groups remains a challenge.

My three top tips for any employer looking to diversify their workforce are to:

  • Ensure recruitment practices are open, fair, and transparent
  • Invest in the development of policies and practices which are equitable and inclusive for all employees
  • Engage with organisations, like Equate and CSIC, to support your journey. There’s lots of practical advice from those who have been on the journey before.

What positive changes do you see happening by working closely with other employers and educators?

DM: We talk about the value that comes from diversity of thought and experiences and it couldn’t be more true. I remain continuously inspired by industry and academic colleagues who are doing (and sharing) great work that helps us to collectively make progress.

Why is it more important than ever to build a more inclusive and fairer workplace in Scotland?

DM: Aside from it fundamentally being the right thing to do, the construction industry needs a workforce that is representative of society to deliver and maintain a built environment that meets the needs of our society. The lost potential we realise due to structural barriers faced by those from historically under-represented groups is a massive waste for the industry and limits our potential to transform our built environment. I think the industry is waking up to the recognition that both attracting and retaining good talent is becoming increasingly challenging and that prospective employees are more expectant of positive working environments and conditions. This can only be a good thing for our pursuit of greater diversity within the industry.

What advice would you give to women students or professionals who wish to pursue a career in Construction?

DM: Sign up to a course at your local college or university. Get involved with your relevant trade association or professional body at the earliest opportunity. You can do this as a student, you don’t need to wait until you’re qualified. Invest in developing your network. Equate provide excellent support in how to do this. Ask for help and support from colleagues in industry. Believe in yourself and don’t ever hold back. And most of all, persevere.

Do you have any tips for female candidates when looking for a job in the sector?

DM: Look for companies that can demonstrate investment in inclusive workplace practices. Lean on your network for opportunities and stay connected with your trade association or professional body. Larger companies are making active efforts to diversify their workforce so make sure you’re signed up to job alerts and check their website regularly.

Women often tell us they are attracted to companies that have a wider societal impact. Do you think the transformation of the industry and focus on sustainability can create more alignment between corporate and personal values?

DM: I hope so. I think the industry has experienced a wake up call and has initiated the early stages of a transformative period of change. Our mission to decarbonise the built environment is monumental and we need as many passionate people as possible to help us on the journey.

 

Douglas Morrison, Impact Director at Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC).