Findings from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) suggest that young girls are often not exposed to construction skills the same as boys of the same age. This carries into career paths as women are less likely to enter secondary and post-secondary construction-based programs.
As volumetric modular construction, technology, and artificial intelligence (AI) bolster the housing industry with new opportunities and more efficient means of productivity, women entering the construction industry could also help soften the ever-growing skilled labor shortage while lessening the gender gap.
“I can say that there is a common (mis)perception among people not involved with construction that a craft professional needs to be physically strong to be able to do the job. Modern construction does not depend on human muscle power; we use hydraulic power, pneumatic power, mechanical power, and electrical power to do the ‘heavy lifting’ so to speak. These types of technology allow for construction processes to be much more efficient,” says Tim Taylor, P.E., Ph.D., director of research at NCCER.
Outlined in a white paper, “In Her Own Words: Rebuilding The Construction Industry,” qualities women can bring to the construction workforce range from “attention to detail” and “safety” to “team focus” and “clean and organized jobsites.” These qualities were noted in focus groups by women in construction as well as management teams, which led to the discussion of how technology and engineering reduces or removes reliance on physical strength but also how women’s skills can benefit these construction solutions.
“Our research into the experiences of tradeswomen demonstrated that women were more consistent in using these types of technologies to do the work. In fact, project managers we spoke with noted that women were much more likely to complete the construction processes as designed,” Taylor adds.
Providing volumetric modules and volumetric modular construction services for a range of sectors including housing, Volumetric Building Cos. (VBC) has seen the opportunities technology-enabled and precision-driven manufacturing can present to a wider pool of workers.
Michael Palmer, head of strategy and real estate at VBC, says: “The main thing is we’re attracting more people to the industry from diverse backgrounds. We’re also taking skill out of what previously required skilled labor by unit breaking and separating these steps into something that would be part of an assembly line. A big component to inviting new people into the industry is we can have folks with disabilities and greater gender parity than we would see on a normal construction site. By virtue of the type of work that’s required, you have people working at one station, as opposed to running up multiple flights of stairs on a jobsite to hoist drywall or some other type of heavy building product.
“At VBC, 1 out of every 5 employees on our production floor identifies as female. With women making up 21% of our factory workforce, that’s nearly 10 times the industry standard of 2%, and most of that industry number comprises representation in administrative or office roles.”
Since the adoption of more technology in construction, VBC has noticed a rise in recruiting talent with advanced and technical degrees but has also began implementing training processes that leverage augmented reality and virtual reality to reduce the learning curve of some of the different scopes of work.
Andrea Jansen, founder and CEO of Ambition Theory—a leadership training and professional coaching company for women in construction—echoes Taylor’s thoughts on women’s strengths that can be applied in the construction field and also Palmer's on technology. She adds, “AI and automation create different types of roles that can appeal to different types of people.”
These technologies that are now innately infused in modular construction and the drive toward a more innovative building industry can also usher in people of all walks of life. “We’re welcoming people that are not traditionally looking for construction jobs, and we’re helping them develop a skill. It’s a practical skill that they can use throughout their lives. We’re also providing more of a manufacturing-centric career path, which is still high paying but doesn’t have the seasonality or the volatility of traditional construction roles,” Palmer says.
Likewise, in a focus group led by NCCER, many women who enter the construction industry did not begin in skilled or construction-oriented tasks, but “once they were exposed to construction, they were interested in advancing for both financial reward and personal empowerment,” the white paper reads.