Construction and the black and minority ethnic communities

This week Panorama showed a programme called “Jobs for the boys”, which considered findings that young African men were twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. We were interviewed for the programme and gave advice on seeking positions in construction from the black minority ethnic communities. As it was only a half hour program not all of the advice we gave made it to the final edit so we felt a blog with further information might be of use.
Please note: this is a large and complicated area so do additional research into factors that may affect you.

Firstly, there are internal and external factors to consider. Internal factors are the things you do personally that might stand in the way of you getting a job and external factors are the things that create barriers for companies that are beyond your control. Internal factors can be due to your background, culture, community, etc., and can affect how you feel, hold and present yourself. One example is how you communicate. Consider that up to 83% of communication is reliant on non-verbal cues (proximity, eye contact, touch) and cultures can be very picky about the rules.  For example, a study found that Italians touched over 200 times in an hour when having a conversation, whereas the British just two to three. So if someone British was talking to someone Italian they might feel uncomfortable with the amount of touching whilst the Italian might find their British friend to be cold and unfriendly. This gives you an example of how the way you walk, talk and hold yourself can have a massive impact on getting a job – we know that most people make their decision subconsciously within seconds of someone walking through the door, so make sure your body language mimics what they are expecting.

Externally there are also barriers…..
Both construction and ethnic status are not as simple as they first look; barriers to construction for example, will depend upon what area of the industry you are looking to get into. The trades (the actual work of laying bricks, cladding buildings, etc.) mostly recruit people they know, which means if they mostly know white British people, they will mostly employ them.  On the other hand finding a job within the professions (Quantity surveyor, architects, site managers etc), where bigger firms often rule the roost, can be easier for minority groups to access than the trades, but promotion and a welcoming environment, once inside, can be a bigger challenge.
Black or minority ethnic status is also a dependant factor, as stereotypes and challenges differ between one group and another. Factors such as religion, skin colour, language, name, and family responsibility could have an impact on the way you are perceived which, whilst it shouldn’t, can create a barrier.  In construction we have heard “Asian kids don’t want to work in construction as they all want to be doctors” and “all the Irish are good for is ground-working”.  Unfortunately we have also heard far more offensive stereotypes (it should be noted not only in construction)  but I don’t want to reinforce them by writing them down.  The point is, clumping together issues around race isn’t always helpful, instead what I shall do is give some advice on what you might want to consider when applying for a job.

Please acknowledge that, in writing this, what I feel is right and wrong is irrelevant.  This is based upon challenges we know you might face and what can be done to work with the way things are – it is up to you to decide what feels right for you: –

What to do
Your CV – This should be about getting you through the door; interview stage is where you can wow with your brilliance. At CV stage companies are looking to see if you have the basic requirements but there are other factors that can hinder your chances of making the sift – your ethnicity is sometimes linked to the assumption that English will be a second language and then the further assumption that if it is a second language you will not be skilled enough in it – therefore you need to set out your stall.
Your name – Some employers in the UK are more likely to employ someone with a traditionally British name; we hear and have seen research on this from large and small companies and, as a workaround, people have been known to employ a British nickname to get them through to the interview stage.

Your spelling – Linked with language assumptions above – make sure you do all you can to challenge this perception where it might occur; people will be hypersensitive to your spelling and grammar and what my white (albeit Irish) name will get away with, yours might not.  Again it’s not fair that we have to work around these issues – but that’s why I’m writing this blog in the first place and trying to bring about change.

Your language – Cultures can have different approaches   to showing respect. So where in the UK we are somewhat more reserved, friends from Uganda and Northern India who now work in the UK can be somewhat more enthusiastic when applying for roles – exclaiming that they would “love the chance to work for such a brilliant, amazing and fantastic organisation”. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be seen as false and, consequently, weakens your application.
What to look out for
Also, companies that work for the public sector are subject to different legislations and are therefore, not only more open to employing people from none white British communities, but also have further support in place to develop their careers.
Where to go
These organisations can help: –
    • Stephen Lawrence Trust
    • Princes Trust
    • Youth Build Bradford

If anyone sees this as useful let us know and next week we will write about the interview stage next week.

Happy Building,
ChrissiFor all things construction and equality, get yourself over to the Constructing Equality Ltd. website.