Improving equality in the foundation industries

Construction crew with female boss

Credit: Getty

The foundation industries produce materials that make up everything around us: metals, glass, paper, cements, ceramics and chemicals.

The Transforming Foundation Industries (TFI) challenge aims to transform the foundation industries – enabling the sustainable future survival of these industries within the UK through energy and resource efficiency improvements using the latest technology.

This sustainable future can only be achieved in a sector that attracts and retains the best talent, regardless of background or protected characteristics.

The TFI challenge knew the importance of understanding the baseline diversity data of the industries, and exploring the motivations and barriers for increased diversity at a firm level.

The commissioned study, completed by Enterprise Research UK (ERC), aimed at improving understanding of the age and gender diversity of the foundation industry workforce. These are the two protected characteristics highlighted as areas of high potential impact within the life of the challenge. Our previous article outlines some of the key findings from the report.

TFI challenge action plan

Aligned to recommendations from the report, the TFI challenge has created its equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy, with four focus areas:

  • encourage in talent
  • develop skillsets and highlight successes
  • tackle culture
  • ensure inclusive challenge activities.

These encompass the three groups of recommendations from the report: promoting a future-focused vision of foundation industries, more clearly defined industry leadership and greater collaboration and sharing of best practice. What follows is a breakdown of each pillar of the strategy, and how they cover each of the policy recommendations.

Encourage in talent

Encourage in talent aims to secure a pipeline of future workforce into the foundation industries. This spans school, college and university students, through to researchers leaving academia, career changes and redeployment of skills. Vital to encouraging in talent is the attraction of people to the industries which will only come through a positive sector image.

The research was clear that a compelling, cross-sector narrative that embraces new technology and welcomes net zero targets would reframe the importance of these industries and the nature of the roles within them.

The first step in creating a pipeline is to increase STEM student numbers. There are already large numbers of passionate, active, STEM ambassadors who are well placed to spread the positive messaging around foundation industries, and STEM careers in general, to school students at various ages. We will:

  • provide a platform to centralise successful STEM outreach activities and resources
  • celebrate the positive impact of STEM outreach
  • integrate with the work of professional bodies and apprenticeship providers to promote the benefits of studying an apprenticeship or degree relating to the foundation industries.

The next step on the path is to ensure that all these enthused students are accessing the right further education. We will:

  • coordinate a working group comprising influential industry stakeholders, to articulate future skills needs, evaluate current apprenticeship and degree provisions
  • facilitate discussions with training providers to influence the curriculum to supply technically qualified future employees.

This working group will also aid in the provision of narrative and work with suitable partners to articulate this vision and amplify the message.

The final step is to ensure this talent is captured by industry. Our platform will centralise placement and graduate opportunities, highlight career pathways with role model bios, provide cohort opportunities and networks and highlight successes through awards.

Develop skillsets and highlight successes

The challenge team has a role to play in developing the skillsets of all those working in the foundation industries, but particularly those of underrepresented groups, and those of the management teams to help facilitate an inclusive culture and increased workforce diversity.

Using targeted networks for women and for early career professionals, we will help support professional development, peer-to-peer mentoring, share relevant events, articles, development and training opportunities, and work with relevant groups to support chartership and celebrate success.

Our Network+ are already doing amazing work to support Early Career Researchers (ECRs) with ringfenced funding for projects proposed and led by ECRs for career development, and reserved places at conferences and events for ECR attendees for training and professional development.

We are also supporting early career professionals through our future leaders group. As part of an open application process in late 2020, 14 early career professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds across the foundation industries with strong potential to be future leaders, receive mentoring, industry exposure and a network of like-minded peers to grow alongside.

The group are already active ambassadors for the foundation industries and will help us to identify persistent barriers to retention and progression for protected groups.

Finally, we will:

  • support leadership teams to introduce formal policies to increase diversity as part of their business case, by capturing and sharing industry-specific case studies which highlight best practise and draw on the experience of businesses with a similar workforce profile.
  • work to facilitate opportunities for training and provide toolkits for HR teams to ensure the confidence to make recruitment processes and people strategies inclusive and promote diversity through positive action.

Across all groups we will capture case studies, celebrate successes and publicise commitments to inclusivity and diversity being made by our businesses.

Tackle culture

The challenge team will take an active role in disseminating the findings of commissioned studies such as EDI in the Foundation Industries and an upcoming study on future skills needs.

We will start conversations and accelerate the pace of change within the industries. We will advocate best practise, aid in building the narrative around why diversity in the foundation industries is vital to their survival, and train ambassadors to amplify this messaging across the sectors. We will work to continue breaking down cross-sector and inter-business barriers and celebrate the sharing of effective engagement with education, successful recruitment practices and the case for diversity.

We are publishing our own commitments and will soon be launching a diversity and inclusion fund to help deploy local initiatives by our stakeholders.

The research points to recognition among some foundation industry businesses that there is now a window of opportunity for more concerted efforts to make progress on developing the workforce industry needs for the future. The legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to bring about profound change in parts of the economy and in local labour markets. Unlike in previous recessions, production-related industries are expected to mount a stronger recovery, in contrast to private sector services.

Foundation industry businesses can also reposition themselves as offering skilled, stable and well-paid employment opportunities.

The drive towards new technology adoption and more sustainable production processes provides a further opportunity to present a more compelling vision of our sectors for the future and their important contribution to the economy, in contrast to the perception of hostile working environments and the legacy of past under-investment.

Ensure inclusive challenge activities

Finally, we must lead from the front. All direct and extended team members have received EDI training and all outward-facing team members are soon to receive inclusive facilitation training to ensure everything we organise and facilitate is as inclusive as possible.

We will ensure inclusion analysis is completed for every event that we organise and we try our hardest to ensure that speakers and panellists provide a diverse range of thoughts and are representative of the sectors we represent.

We will audit and publish data on the diversity of our Advisory Group and Future Leaders Groups, alongside auditing and broadening inclusivity in the hiring of assessors and monitoring officers.

Finally, we will use our position to influence positive change and are working to embed EDI and future skills questions into upcoming competitions.

We are challenging ourselves to be reflective, adaptive and to lead the foundation industries. We will continually adapt our strategy to best support the industries and always welcome feedback and discussions on how we can best do this. Our end goal is to ensure the sustainable future of the foundation industries, which can only be achieved if we attract and retain the best talent, regardless of background or protected characteristics.

Last updated: 7 December 2023

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