Construction roles offer women excellent pay and prospects– so why do so few join up?
A survey by AXA incorporating over 500 business owners in November 2016 found that a tradesman’s take-home pay was typically 15 percent higher than that of a self-employed professional, and 37 percent above that in the retail or services industries. Startup tradesmen turn a profit fastest too – within the first three months on average. And 71 percent of tradesmen go full-time within a year, compared to 55 percent of professionals.
With such good prospects, the study questioned why so few women are taking up the tools of the trade. According to AXA’s customer data, taken over a five year period from January 2012 to December 2016, just 5.2 percent are women, far fewer than the 1 in 10 commonly quoted. And, for the record, women account for just 1.8 percent of ‘white van’ drivers on the roads today.
Gardening is the first UK trade to see a significant number of women: AXA’s figures show a 27 percent representation among business owners. The five ‘men’s jobs’ that are most in need of female recruits are: stonemason, heating engineer, plasterer, electrician and plumber.
Despite the low numbers, those pioneering women who have entered the building trades are having a busy and prosperous time:
- Average take-home pay for a tradeswoman is £1,660 (compared to £1,030 across professional, retail and service sectors working the same hours).
- Two thirds say they are confident they will see business growth in 2017 (compared to 42 percent average), and nine in ten rate their business as a success.
- Average hours worked by a tradeswoman is 41 per week, compared to the average of 32 hours per week for all other sectors.
Longer hours worked outside the home may make the trades less attractive for younger women who are juggling childcare with their work. Another reason put forward is that the traditional routes into the trades are outside the education system – through apprenticeships, on the job training, or businesses passed from father to son (ten per cent of tradespeople inherited their firms).
“This means the trades are rarely promoted to girls when they are making their career choices, even though training to be a plumber or electrician could be as good – if not a better – option than university for many”, says Darrell Sansom, Managing Director, AXA Business Insurance.
“There is also the stubborn persistence of the ‘cowboy builder’ headline in the media which is rarely balanced by the many positive stories of decent tradespeople that we see. Seventy-two per cent of women surveyed last year said they thought the ‘cowboy’ stereotype was true of tradespeople. There is definitely an image problem there, and it is deeply unfair.”
“There is an economic side to this too, which is every bit as important as getting more women onto FTSE 100 boards. The government pledged a million new homes and £500 billion investment in infrastructure projects by 2020 – that’s a huge part of our economic life for women to miss out on. It is hoped there will be more encouragement for small firms, led by both men and women, to benefit from these opportunities.”
Read the January 2017 issue of Construction Global here
Why engineers must always consider human-induced vibration
Human induced vibration, or more accurately vibrations caused by human footfall, often conjures images of Millennium Bridge-style swaying or collapsing buildings.
But in reality, the ‘damage’ caused by human-induced vibrations is less likely to ruin a structure and more likely to cause discomfort in people. Though not as dramatic as a structural failure, any good engineer wants to make sure the people using their structures, be it bridges or buildings or anything in between, can do so safely and comfortably. This is why human-induced vibration must be considered within the design process.
Resonance v Impulse
There are two ways that human-induced vibrations affect structures: resonant, and impulse or transient response. Put simply, resonance occurs when Object A vibrates at the same natural frequency as Object B.
Object B resonates and begins to vibrate too. Think singing to break a wine glass! Although the person singing isn’t touching the glass, the vibrations of their voice are resonating with the glass’s natural frequency, causing this vibration to get stronger and stronger and eventually, break the glass. In the case of a structure, resonance occurs when the pedestrian’s feet land in time with the vibration.
On the other hand, impulse or transient vibration responses can be a problem on structures where its natural frequencies are too high for resonance to occur, such as where the structure is light or stiff. Here the discomfort is caused by the initial “bounce” of the structure caused by the footstep and is a concern on light or stiff structures.
Engineers must, of course, design to reduce the vibration effects caused by either impulse or resonance.
Potential impacts from human induced vibration
Human induced vibration can lead to a number of effects upon the structure and its users. These include:
- Interfering with sensitive equipment Depending on the building’s purpose, what it houses can be affected by the vibrations of people using the building. Universities and laboratories, for example, may have sensitive equipment whose accuracy and performance could be damaged by vibrations. Even in ordinary offices the footfall vibration can wobble computer screens, upsetting the workers.
- Swaying bridges One of the most famous examples of human-induced resonance impacting a structure occurred with the Millennium Bridge. As people walked across the bridge, the footsteps caused the bridge to sway, and everybody had to walk in time with the sway because it was difficult not to. Thankfully, this feedback can only occur with horizontal vibrations so building floors are safe from it, but footbridges need careful checking to prevent it.
- Human discomfort According to research, vibrations in buildings and structures can cause depression and even motion sickness in inhabitants. Tall buildings sway in the wind and footsteps can be felt, even subconsciously by the occupants. It has been argued that modern efficient designs featuring thinner floor slabs and wider spacing in column design mean that these new builds are not as effective at dampening vibrations as older buildings are.
- Jeopardising structural integrity The build-up of constant vibrations on a structure can, eventually, lead to structural integrity being compromised. A worse-case scenario would be the complete collapse of the structure and is the reason some bridges insist that marching troops break step before crossing. Crowds jumping in time to music or in response to a goal in a stadium are also dynamic loads that might damage an under-designed structure.
How to avoid it
As mentioned, modern designs that favour thinner slabs and wider column spacing are particularly susceptible to all forms of vibration, human-induced or otherwise, but short spans can also suffer due to their low mass. Using sophisticated structural engineering software is an effective method for engineers to test for and mitigate footfall and other vibrations at the design stage.