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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Attracting Women to Plumbing

Monday, October 17, 2005

Meg recently attended a ‘Women in Plumbing’ roundtable at the House of Commons organised by the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers (IPHE) and gave the following speech.


This is a good time for the construction industry in the UK, healthy business conditions and bright prospects ahead. We have major building programmes ongoing including the 2012 London Olympics.


Construction is an important part of the UK’s economy, 8.3 per cent of Gross Value Added. The industry continues to grow steadily, last year showing 3 per cent growth over the previous year.  But it has an importance wider than just facts and figures. When we arrived in office in 1997 we wanted to improve the public services - in particular the NHS and education.  Part of this improvement is in buildings, good quality buildings symbolising a state delivering modern services to the public. 


There is a raft of public infrastructure projects underway, or planned:


  • 42 new hospitals under the PFI initiative
  • The ‘Schools for the Future’ programme - 200 new schools will be built over the next few years
  • The ‘sustainable communities and housing’ programme, a significant increase in the provision of social housing.


This scale of construction creates a major task in recruiting and retaining sufficient skilled people. Your particular sectors have a crucial role in the industry - around 40 per cent by value of our buildings comprises various mechanical and electrical goods. Without them, our offices, schools, hospitals, simply do not function.


We have recognised the need to be pro-active in the skills area by licensing 24 Sector Skills Councils, each with a brief to develop and implement strategies to tackle the skills and training needs of their particular industry sectors. As you know, the two main SSCs for your sectors are ConstructionSkills, and SummitSkills.


Developing robust evidence of where the skills shortages are, and the occupations particularly affected, is vital if the correct decisions are to be made to combat them.  We need more than anecdotal evidence, however strong, to appreciate the size of the challenge, and develop effective solutions.


Setting aside the home plumbing sector, ConstructionSkills estimate a need for around 3,700 plumbers per annum over and above those currently coming into the industry. The picture is similar for other construction-related sectors.


So the need is real. Whilst it is essential that industry takes full advantage of the available labour pool, all involved must work together to provide effective training opportunities for the workforce of the future.


This creates a real opportunity for women who are attracted to a career in the construction industry.  We know that the proportion of women in construction, plumbing and related trades is lamentably low.


According to the latest data, less than one per cent of the entire manual workforce in construction are women. The same low proportion applies to plumbing. Proportions are higher in other parts of the industry, such as architecture, but overall women are not there. Whether in the context of the skills needs of industry, or society in general, these figures are a sad reflection on the prevailing state of the construction industry.


Yet there are many examples of women playing a major role. It makes sense for firms to attract new recruits from as wide a pool as possible, and include women in the front line of their recruitment strategies. For those who choose to go self-employed, with many customers - particularly the elderly and lone mothers - requesting a female plumber, there should be no shortage of work.


Attracting women, and BME Groups, represents a challenge. But I’d like to suggest -


Image -  Women must want to join the industry. The career guidance that young women receive, and the impressions they get from family, the media, and industry itself are all highly influential.

Reality - does the industry welcome them, or do they feel its lip-service to get ticks on a checklist? Is provision made for their needs?

Financial - the Sector Skills Councils tell us that typically, prospective women trainees will be older than their male counterparts. This has financial implications for such things as support for apprentices and wage levels. There are also child support issues.

Training - Some issues relate to both men and women, and this is one. Without firms willing to take on trainees, it is impossible for them to complete apprenticeship or other quality training that the industry says they should have.


Colleges and training providers also play a huge part here. Many of them are taking innovative approaches to attract women: Moulton College in Northamptonshire is offering courses for women with no course fees. They are also helping with transport, books and childcare costs. Local authorities such as Leicester are also playing a key role, encouraging women through their apprenticeship schemes.


Quality service relies on quality learning and training.  Quick-fix training courses, offering people a fast track to a career in plumbing, provide  a  seductive solution but one that could lead to unfortunate repercussions later. There is no substitute for proper training. Incompetent trade’s people, men or women, give more heartache than help. Anyone in business knows that it costs more in the long run having to go back to fix a scrappy job. That is why my Department has been closely involved in setting up TrustMark.


Trade associations licensed by the Trustmark Board will have to demonstrate that their members meet a set of recognised technical competence standards. That they comply with fair and practical customer-care requirements. I am pleased to say that five schemes have already been approved and a number of others are in the pipeline.


TrustMark will offer a single, recognisable badge, endorsed by Government and consumer organisations. All trade associations and other membership bodies with an interest in raising standards in the plumbing sector are urged to consider applying for TrustMark approval. Their concerns will be boosted by association with what will become the quality mark for the industry.     


Government understands that women want the same opportunities, choices and support as men. Women want the possibility to make decisions that help them to reach their potential.


We want to reach a point where women have the same opportunity to play a full role in the economic life of the nation. This will benefit the individual by:

?      Having the ability to earn a good living

?      Providing pathways so the individual can develop their own personal career.


I hope you are able to develop some specific practical steps to continue to positively change the recruitment and working practices in the industry. Government need the buildings built, employers need the skilled workers, and society is helped by having more trained personnel feeling they are making a real contribution.


I would like to congratulate IPHE for organising today’s event.  Your work, alongside others including SummitSkills, to try and find solutions is very much appreciated. 

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