Community, Diversity, Industry, Interview | 20 December 2021
The built environment workforce lacks diversity.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force 2019 Survey revealed that only 5.4% of construction workers were from ethnic minority backgrounds. A recent study by the CIOB showed that only approx. 14% of the UK construction workforce are women, with a mere 2% acting as site operatives.
Building People is seeking to change things. It combines resources and information from numerous websites and act as a central repository for information on built environment careers, jobs, learning resources, training, opportunities, and more. It was set up by Rebecca Lovelace with a vision to create change by connecting the dots between different organisations and sources of information in the fragmented construction industry.
Ultimately the intention is to help make the built environment workforce more reflective of the UK population as a whole and to address the skills shortage by increasing diversity. The platform seeks to match potential employers with a diverse talent pool and vice-versa.
We spoke to founder Rebecca Lovelace about her work.
FYI, The Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) has recently recognised the work Rebecca and Building People are doing and has longlisted them for their Initiative Category in their 2022 Awards!
Can you tell us about Building People?
Building People is a social enterprise. We bring together, and support, communities that work with diverse groups within the built environment workforce, because these groups are severely underrepresented. These groups include ex-military, ex-offenders, LGBTQ+, refugees, women, ethnic minority groups and young people. We want to help increase diversity in the built environment workforce because we believe this will enhance innovation, collaboration, and social cohesion. Underrepresentation and lack of visibility of a group within a sector is a significant barrier to increasing representation of that group. Role models and visibility are important!
We work with the grassroots organisations that support underrepresented groups, and we encourage employers to share events, activities, resources, apprenticeships, jobs, case studies, webinars, and podcasts on our platform so we can share them in turn. We want to make it easier for all people to gain clarity about what opportunities are available to them, to simplify their research process, open up opportunities and encourage more people to feel confident going for them.
Our purpose is threefold
- To support individuals through their user journey on our platform
- To collaborate with and support grassroots organisations, to provide careers support to their communities
- To encourage the wider industry to increase diversity within the built environment workforce
Tell us about your role at Building People.
I’m the Founder and Chief Dot-joiner!
My role is to lead Building People via a collaborative and inclusive approach. We’ve made a commitment not to duplicate efforts already happening in the sector and to collaborate with other organisations to deliver maximum social impact.
Our platform provides a simple way to access information to enable greater equality of opportunity across what is a fragmented careers landscape. This has been achieved because we have developed a powerful network of organisations that provide built environment careers support to diverse audiences. My role is to lead this collaborative movement and to encourage EVERYONE across the sector to join in.
Why? Because I’ve been working in the sector for over twenty years and have decided I want to use my passion to build a more inclusive workforce — and to try to resolve my frustration at the incredibly slow pace of change.
The sector is fragmented and there is a lack of holistic leadership (across the sector). Collaboration is thin on the ground, so I decided to create Building People to make it happen.
What matters most to you and how does this shape how you lead?
I believe that everyone has a part to play in making our planet a better place. Being respectful, fair, and inclusive to all is very important to me and drives everything I do.
“We want to help increase diversity in the built environment workforce because we believe this will enhance innovation, collaboration, and social cohesion. ”
What’s your personal motivation?
I want to leave the planet in a better place. What’s the point of being here if we don’t make a difference?
Building People was not planned! After working for many years in the Humanitarian and Charity sectors, helping various groups including young people and ex-offenders to access opportunities, I wanted to create a place to bring as many opportunities as possible together. In 2017 I did a piece of work with the military and with my colleagues I realised that we needed to build a platform to achieve this. We then investigated funding…
If you’re committed to not duplicating the efforts of others, what do you do differently?
We focus on the whole of the built environment sector, so we’re not concerned with only one trade, profession, or part of the sector. Rather, we are committed to collaborating with all whilst trying not duplicating the efforts of others, on everything we do.
We believe the biggest challenges faced by the industry are skills shortages and the lack of diversity within it. The UK needs to build but there is a shortage of competent and experienced workers. The fact that we represent all elements, professions, trades, and niches within the industry is different and is inclusivity in action.
“Collaboration is thin on the ground, so I decided to create Building People to make it happen.”
What challenges do members of under-represented groups face in construction?
Where do I start?! The statistics say everything. Huge change is needed in the culture, in awareness and in access to career opportunities. We need more openness and understanding, more acceptance of the reality of modern life on site for example by enabling part-time hours and flexible working, we also need incredibly basic things like access to toilets!
It’s about visibility. If you’re not represented, it is harder to fit in. People come to work in the sector but then they leave. The industry cannot attract a diverse pool of talent if people cannot embrace diversity.
At any major conference, we share the stage with our network. We want to do all we can to amplify underrepresented voices and extend networks plus increase collaboration.
Building Heroes, Let’s Build, Real Estate Women and the Register of Tradeswomen say, “Having the opportunity to come together on stage at London Build, and to speak with a collective voice about equality, diversity and inclusion in the sector, has given such a boost to our organisations. The commitment from Building People to amplify our voices and to add value to our work by enabling greater communication, representation and collaboration cannot be underestimated.”
“It’s about visibility. If you’re not represented, it is harder to fit in. ”
What will ensure that Building People is a success?
Our biggest challenge has been funding and financial security. We want our service to be free!
There are over 200 professional bodies, trade associations and industry groups, and currently we have the support of 18, plus several enlightened companies and charitable organisations. If each organisation made a small contribution, we would have a much more sustainable model with sustainable revenue. So, a key to success is attracting more organisations to collaborate with.
There are key funders who would ideally support us but haven’t done so yet. We need to drive more traffic to our site to prove its value. Our challenge is that Building People covers everything — all trades, all professions, all parts of the sector and all career opportunities. As the platform grows and incorporates more resources it becomes harder to prove the direct results, for example the placement of someone into employment. Even though we can show other less tangible benefits, such as making the process easier, we don’t have a mechanism for recording all the results we have a hand in creating. We’re getting there… it’s very much chicken and egg.
What is your vision for the future?
My vision is for the Building People platform to be an ethical Amazon crossed with LinkedIn and Right Move. Where people from all communities can find the resources and opportunities they need based on their specific requirements.
Ultimately, we want to help create a built environment sector that drives innovation by being reflective of its users and by being transparent in its practices — because its users have been involved in the process. For construction to be a better place it needs to be developed by the community it serves — this will be success.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about? Any news you'd like to share?
Anyone can join in — just head to our website to share your vacancies, knowledge, and events.
We’re passionate about keeping Building People free to the user and free for members of our network. Please register your company and promote any career opportunities and events to increase traffic to our site to demonstrate the power of collaboration and how it can increase diversity across the built environment.
Many thanks to Rebecca for sharing her time and thoughts with us, and best of luck to her and the team in achieving financial security in 2022.
Kiss House Team