A respected construction organization in Britain has commended Jehovah’s Witnesses for training women as heavy-equipment operators at the site of their new branch office near Chelmsford, Essex. The Considerate Constructors Scheme a (CCS) gave the Witnesses’ approach to training women in construction their top score—10 out of 10—and described it as “innovative.” Why such a high rating?
In Britain, less than 13 percent of construction workers are women. According to one survey conducted by a British firm, few young women even consider a job in the construction industry. By contrast, about 40 percent of the team at the Chelmsford site are women. The number climbs to over 60 percent among the team of heavy-equipment operators.
What helps these Witness women to succeed? Training and support play an important role. These two factors also form part of the CCS code of practice. The code encourages constructors to show they value their workforce by “providing a workplace where everyone is respected, treated fairly, encouraged and supported,” as well as by “promoting training.”
Training Women to Operate Heavy Equipment
Jade, one of the women trained on-site to operate excavators and dump trucks, relates: “It’s amazing! I never thought I’d be able to do it. Sometimes the work is challenging, but I am constantly being trained and learning new things.” Like Jade, Lucy too is now a heavy-equipment operator. She recalls: “When I first came to the site, I did not have any skills that I felt I could offer. But from the first day I arrived, I received training. Since then, I have worked with five different teams, so I have been trained a lot!”
Women on the team have skills that go beyond just operating the machinery. A crew leader named Eric notes: “Women often look after the equipment better than the men do, and they are very good at recognizing if something is wrong with their machine and reporting it.”
Supporting Women in Construction
Carl, who leads several crews that use heavy equipment, says: “I have been really impressed by the way the women have learned to drive machines. In some cases, I would choose them to drive rather than men with years of experience!”
When crew leaders express their support for their fellow workers, they instill confidence. That can be seen in the case of Therese. An experienced machine operator, she knows that where heavy equipment is involved, shouldering responsibility and making decisions to ensure safety are critical. Therese explains: “When I know that I have the support of my crew leader, I am able to do a lot more than I would otherwise expect to do because I feel that I am trusted. It’s worth all the hard work when I know that people appreciate what I have to contribute and respect it!”
Abigail, another operator of excavators and dump trucks, appreciates the support and cooperation she receives: “The men on this site don’t treat me as inferior. They’re ready to help, but they don’t try to take over. They let me get on with the job.”
Focused and Conscientious Workers
Apart from operating various kinds of heavy equipment, women at Chelmsford have been trained on such jobs as surveying, land management, machine repair, and scaffold installation. Robert, who has worked with women on a variety of project tasks, says that they are “focused, keen to get into the work, and attentive to detail.” Tom, who works with surveying, adds: “The women on my crew are precise and conscientious. They want to get it spot-on.”
Little wonder that crew leader Fergus enthusiastically says: “There is definitely a place for women in construction!”
a The Considerate Constructors Scheme is an independent organization tasked with improving the image of the construction industry in Britain.