Updated: Apr 21
Construction executives everywhere are desperately scrambling to find people to do the work they’ve promised their customers. Their most experienced workers are retiring at a breakneck pace. And young men, their traditional target market for replacing these retirees, don’t seem to be interested in going into the trades as a career.
Meanwhile, women make up over half of the general population but only 14% of the construction workforce.
Women are obviously fully capable of doing construction work. However, much of traditional construction is extremely physically demanding, dirty, uncomfortable, dangerous work, done in remote, unpredictable locations, often far from the workers’ homes. It can be a tough sell, even for the strongest of men. With less brute strength and often greater child-rearing responsibilities, it’s no wonder that women don’t jump at the opportunity to do these jobs.
However, in my consulting work in the offsite and prefab construction sector, I’ve noticed a significantly higher rate of women working in offsite factories and prefab shops than on jobsites. Some factories’ workforces are more than 30% female, and they don’t seem to have much problem finding workers.
There are several likely reasons for this difference. In general, compared to on-site construction work, the work in offsite construction factories is:
Less strenuous: The cranes, lifts, and other mechanical assist equipment facilitated by the factory environment eliminate physical strength and endurance as a condition for employment.
Less reliant on construction experience: Due to the standardized work processes in offsite factories, years of construction industry experience are often unnecessary.
Safer: Ergonomic work fixtures, jigs, catwalks, and mezzanines make working in a factory much safer and less strenuous than a jobsite.
More predictable: Being able to go to a single nearby location for work every day is much more family-friendly for primary caretakers of children.
More stable: Most modular factories provide full benefits to their workforce, providing additional security for the employees and their families.
More comfortable: The conditioned environment of a factory is a much more pleasant place to work than a jobsite.
Of course, these advantages don’t only appeal to women. Who wouldn’t prefer a work environment like this over that of a traditional field construction job?
Offsite construction unlocks entire non-traditional portions of the population for work in construction, including older workers, workers from other industries, inexperienced workers, and, of course, women.
So if you’re labor-constrained, think outside the jobsite and look to offsite construction and prefabrication to open up your options.
Published in COLORADO BUILDER Magazine on February 8, 2023