COIVD-19 has had a significant impact on the Construction Sector in Scotland. The Scottish Construction Industry (Draft Recovery Plan) from the Scottish government seeks to address these impacts and the longstanding problems that have been brought to light by COVID-19.
Equate Scotland have responded with 9 key comments to this draft plan:
1. Equality, Diversity, & Inclusion targets
We believe that a key component of this plan should be to Build Back Better. However, this Recovery Plan, at present, has very little tangible, specific, measurable, or targeted outcomes identified that will address the longstanding problems of lack of equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) in this sector. Where interventions are proposed they appear to be later in the plan, too vague, or both.
As this sector will play an important role in economic recovery, it is essential that there is change to the culture and diversity of the sector through a set specific goals and objectives on ED&I targets not only for main contractors but also the supply chain in order to meaningfully address the long standing issues.
Given the significant public investment likely to be made in the sector, it is not unreasonable that these ED&I targets should be incorporated at the foundation level of the Recovery Plan, and not deferred till 2021/22.
Our 2016 report Diversity in Construction is a useful reference point here. (https://equatescotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/11211-Equate-Diversity-in-construction-report-rfp-low-res.pdf)
2. Public Contract Procurement criteria
Public Contract Procurement provides a significant opportunity in setting ED&I criteria as part of any contract bids in relation to influencing and changing the culture/ behaviours in relation to ED&I issues.
Procurement contract terms can be set in a way that is relevant to the contract that is being bid for, and also takes account of the area (local or national) in which the contract is being awarded. These terms can be set for both main and supply chain organisations. This can also incorporate areas of social/economic deprivation.
Scottish Enterprise (via their managed account companies), Skills Development Scotland, and local authorities also have significant ability to influence at local and national levels. Targets should be set that align to Scottish Government policy, priorities in the ED&I arena, including, but not limited to, the recently published Programme for Government.
3. Apprenticeships & Reskilling
It is recognised that women have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, and that many sectors with a predominantly female workforce are likely to see a significant downturn and job losses.
Given the skills shortages in the construction sector, the focus should not only be on apprenticeships but should also seek to target reskilling and retraining from other sectors facing significant unemployment, and in particular, roles where women are disproportionately affected.
Apprenticeship programmes are only one element of the future pipeline of the sector. Women and other under-represented groups must be given the opportunity to be part of a fair and open recruitment and selection programme, addressing not just current and future skill shortages but lack of workforce diversity. This should be a core deliverable of the Recovery Plan particularly as allied to green jobs of the future. Otherwise we simply continue to perpetuate the existing issues of ED&I.
4. Colleges & Universities
The College and University sector have a key role to play in the future pipeline of talent for this sector, and in particular in ensuring that their own environments, and curriculum are encouraging representation and participation from under-represented groups to be engaged in STEM subjects.
These organisations should be active participants and contributors to the Recovery Plan and support pathways for future STEM talent pipelines that are diverse and inclusive.
Baseline data (including intersectionality) for ED&I should be established now and reviewed as part of the Recovery Plan. From established baseline data, targets should be set as part of this Recovery Plan to clearly signal a commitment to defined actions/timescales and delivering improvements on long standing ED&I issues. This should include any proposals on recruitment and selection processes for Apprenticeships. I would reference Equate Scotland’s report on intersectionality published in May this year as a relevant reference point https://equatescotland.org.uk/launch-new-report-womens-experiences-stem/)
6. Fair Work Principles
On page 19 (Skills and Workforce) the Fair Work principles (by 2020) and the proposal of a Fair Work Charter for construction (by 2021) are mentioned. While welcome that they are mentioned, given the historic performance of the sector, these are simply too vague and need specific, tangible measurable objectives and timelines.
7. National Programme to support diversity and inclusion
Also welcome, on Page 19, the proposal to develop a national programme to support industry to improve diversity and inclusion, including positive action; identified in the Recovery Plan as an action by December 2021.
For reference, Equate Scotland, in conjunction with key construction sector partners Sir Robert McAlpine, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, City of Glasgow College has already developed and launched The Inclusive Value toolkit designed specifically to address many of these issues. https://equatescotland.org.uk/inclusive-value-report-construction-sector
8. Human Resources Group
Page 20 of the plan proposes the establishment of a professional Human Resources group (by 2021) responsible for gathering real-time data for both industry and Government supporting the development of sector supported courses and leading on diversity, inclusion and Fair Work. While this initiative is welcome, the timeline is not. Please also see the reference in (5) to intersectionality. This element should be part of the core build-back-better approach as part of the cultural and behavioural changes to be implemented as part of the early recovery plan, (ie, the conditionality of grant funding/procurement contracts). Not to seize these opportunities will simply be another missed opportunity to make a meaningful impact in terms of moving the dial on the ED&I agenda.
9. Recovery Plan Contributors
While appreciating the short notice around which this Recovery Plan and contributors were assembled, it is worth observing that there appears to be a lack of ED&I in the composition of the membership list (including smaller SMEs).
To better reflect the wider aims and stakeholders in the Recovery Plan and the ED&I elements of it, the balance and composition of membership should be reviewed to better and more inclusively support the fullest aims of the Recovery Plan.