Inquiry reveals poor recruitment practices stop ethnic minorities entering the construction industry

Construction industry needs to do more to attract ethnic minority workers

31 July 2009

A negative image of the construction industry and poor recruitment practices are contributing to the low numbers of ethnic minorities* entering the industry, according to the results of an inquiry published today.  

Ethnic minorities make up just 3.3 per cent of the construction industry workforce, up from 1.9 per cent in 1999.  This compares to ethnic minorities making up 7.9 per cent of the national workforce.

The Race Discrimination in the Construction Industry inquiry saw evidence that suggests the industry is no less appealing to ethnic minorities than it is to white people with 45 per cent and 42 per cent respectively saying they were interested in a career in construction.

However, a prevalence of word of mouth recruitment, a lack of job or career progression and problems making the transition from training to work, prevent ethnic minorities from getting jobs. 
Although the majority of witnesses felt that overt racism had declined in recent years, there is evidence that some forms of racist ‘banter’ are still tolerated in pockets of the industry. 

The inquiry also highlights a significant amount of good practice in the industry, but as yet, it has not had the effect of substantially increasing the proportion of ethnic minorities. 

Commissioner Kay Allen said:
“The level of ethnic minority representation across the industry must improve.  This is a vital industry for the British economy.  It is important to acknowledge that it is facing some critical challenges from the recession and the changing nature of the British workforce.  To remain competitive and ensure that it has the right skills for the future; it must invest in training and recruiting the best candidates from the widest possible pool of talent.

“It should be recognised that the industry is taking steps to increase diversity. There are many positive initiatives and examples of good practice designed to increase representation.  However, clearly there is more that needs to be done. 

“Our report presents a call to action to the industry to build on its good work to date and address the causes of underrepresentation and continuing discrimination taking place in parts of the industry.  It also represents a challenge for the Commission to support the industry in building on its good practice, while ensuring that those who do not comply with the requirements of equalities legislation are penalised appropriately”.

The inquiry report makes 31 broad-based recommendations for key issues to be addressed to improve representation of non-white ethnic minorities in the industry.  These range from training and education, recruitment and contracting, retention, unlawful discrimination and monitoring and influencing change. 

The next step for the Commission is to engage with industry bodies and stakeholders, including relevant government departments, unions, education providers and careers advisers and key co-ordinating bodies like the National Apprenticeship Service and sector skills councils. 

In a complex industry environment, that engagement will be on how to bring about change to increase the representation of ethnic minorities. 

The Commission intends to report on this next phase of work by January 2010 setting out activities to tackle the continued underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the industry.



For more information please contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Press Office on: 0203 117 0255

Notes to editors

  • *refers to non-white ethnic minorities
  • Research from ConstructionSkills indicates that in England 7 per cent of students in training on construction-related courses are from ethnic minorities. This is significantly higher than their 3.3 per cent representation in the industry workforce and closer to the 7.9 per cent representation of ethnic minority workers in the working population.

The inquiry's terms of reference were:

  • To inquire into barriers to the entry of and retention of non-white ethnic minority workers (which includes employees and self-employed contractors) in the industry.
  • To identify examples of good practice in encouraging ethnic diversity in the industry and the benefits derived from such good practice by the firms and workers involved.
  • To assess and analyse the differential impact of job losses in the industry.
  • To make such recommendations as are appropriate.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.

The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.