News & Views

Mentoring for Greater Diversity; A First Step

Today, few would argue that a diverse workforce is one which brings many benefits to business, from fresh outlooks to different ideas and new ways of thinking. Diversity also reflects society in general, which is your customer base, and of all the business benefits – reflecting your customer base has to be one of the most important.

Though statistics vary from year-to-year and according to the organisation commissioning them, citing EngineeringUK’s figures from its brief ‘Gender disparity in engineering’, just 12% of those working in engineering are women; and from the 2019 fourth quarter ONS’s Labour Force Survey just 5.4% of construction workers were BAME. Clearly, figures such as this demand action. In fact, this latter figure is quite conservative, with some statistics putting the number of BAME people in construction as low as 2% so it’s anyone’s guess as to how representative of wider society the geotechnical and piling sectors are.

The Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) has long been a champion of both diversity and inclusivity and working with its membership has a number of initiatives designed to encourage greater participation from all people, as well as position the piling, geotechnical and wider construction, as an industry offering great career potential to all.

One such initiative was the establishment of a Mentoring Scheme, which it designed specifically to support the goal of increasing the number of currently underrepresented groups within the construction sector, as well as retain those already within it. The scheme looked at taking mentors from all sectors of the industry that feel passionate about construction and who are able to offer a real-world and positive personal perspective on the geotechnical sector and connect them with suitable mentees. Recognising the potential of the scheme, the FPS collaborated with Ground Forum (GF), who took over the scheme, as it was better able to represent the entire ground engineering sector, by bringing together both related societies and four trade associations, including the FPS.

Working with industry people such as Ebenezer Adenmosun, director of Geofirma and active mentor of engineers, typical mentees were identified as students at university that have expressed an interest in the sector; early career persons, such as graduates looking to get chartered but lack the necessary guidance and support within their organisations; experienced persons who would benefit from a little encouragement to re-capture their interest; and site operatives looking for more general support.

In November, more than 60 Mentees and Mentors met virtually to kick off the GF scheme, which is being managed by STEER Support & Mentoring CIC, and was extremely successful at connecting the first ‘batch’ of students, from a broad range of Universities including, Portsmouth, Loughborough, Bradford, Leeds, Brunel, Hertfordshire and Bath, with ground engineering industry professionals. Specifically, students ranged from those studying Batchelors qualifications in in civil engineering, geology, and engineering geology, and are across a range in years of study, from 1st year student to post-graduate. Of course, this was just the start of the initiative, with the aim of the programme having multiple threads and longer term, looking to engage with a wider spread of mentees as highlighted earlier. However, this first step seeks to enable students to feel confident in their career choices, strengthen their employability skills, and be connected to a network of future drivers for change. Importantly, it also wants to help mentees finding their part in multidisciplinary teams at project, programme, and portfolio levels, which is essential if they are to establish themselves within the industry.

Mentees will also be able to undertake work experience during their studies too, which will give them a flavour of real-world working and integrates well into the whole mentoring concept. With the support of many companies, the work experience opportunities will take place in the Spring. We are also looking to provide interview training and CV workshops too.

The next step is for the mentees to have their first meetings with their mentors before Christmas, to establish a framework and programme going forward, with planned feedback shaping the direction of the scheme going forward.

Although it is still early days in the scheme’s running, it is encouraging to note that it was heavily oversubscribed, which itself supports the theory that there is plenty of interest in the sector – it is more a case of supporting the enthusiasm, which the mentors can.