Social barriers in construction, and how we hope to break them down

I’ve already spoken about some of the economic and environmental costs of craft and DIY. But there are social barriers too. As someone who presents as female, I often get ignored or sniggered at when in DIY shops (my version of a sweetie counter), despite the fact I usually know exactly what I’m looking for and how to use it.

And I can only imagine this would be worse for people with other genders, ethnicities or identities, let alone for people who are undervalued despite being actually qualified in this field and who use tools in a professional capacity.

In fact, according to the GMB union, in 2019 women made up just 12.5% of the entire construction industry workforce, and only 3% when it came to manual labour jobs. People from ethnic minority backgrounds made up just 5.4%.

If you consider that the construction industry is one of the largest (and better paying) employers in the Highlands and Islands, this results in a major gender/ethnicity pay gap. While the construction industry is starting to become more diverse, we need to acknowledge the institutional barriers that many people face.

As always, there’s a further class element to this too. Many jobs in the construction industry require workers to provide their own tools as soon as they start a new job, before receiving their first paycheck. For those already on a low income, this provides a huge structural obstacle to entering the construction industry.

Clachworks hopes to play a small part in changing this dynamic. We believe that DIY is something that everyone should be able to take part in if they want or need to, regardless of their background. We’ve been hugely inspired by the Mens Shed movement which has done great work in providing emotional support for men suffering from mental ill health and isolation. But there are many more people who experience this need.

When we put out our survey earlier this year, we weren’t surprised to find that 73% of the respondents identified as female. Women and people from diverse backgrounds across the Highlands and Islands are desperate for opportunities to get more involved.

Clachworks is determined to break down institutional barriers to getting involved with craft, DIY and gardening. Once we have our open-access workshop up and running, we intend to hold additional womens and queer friendly drop-in sessions and classes to make the space more accessible.

When possible, we also hope to arrange for childcare for those who wouldn’t be able to afford the time otherwise, and also hold specific workshops for children, as we know that social constructions of genders and identities don’t have to continue in future generations.

There’s also great technology being developed for people with physical disabilities who are keen to get involved in DIY projects. We’re looking into this, but would love to hear from anyone with experience of this who might have suggestions or tips.

Finally, we’re hoping to raise funds to provide a number of starter toolkits for people wanting to start a career in the construction industry but who can’t afford the required tools. If you’d be keen to help support this and sponsor the project, we’d love to hear from you!

By Lauren Pyott