Skills shortages in some parts of the UK labour market could be solved by recruiting more women into traditionally 'male' roles such as plumbing, construction and engineering, a new report has claimed.
The first report from the Equal Opportunities Commission's (EOC) investigation into occupational gender segregation, claims that skills shortages are at their most critical in areas where men make up the vast majority of the workforce
But the EOC said that the same argument applied as much to female-dominated industries such as childcare as it did to traditional male bastions like the building or motor trades.
But employers are oblivious to the link, argues EOC Chair Julie Mellor.
"Many people will be familiar with the frustration of not being able to get hold of a plumber or not being able to find a suitable childcare place for your child. But of course skills shortages also have a significant impact on employers – even high-profile projects, such as Heathrow's Terminal 5, are having problems finding enough skilled workers," she said.
"This investigation has identified real barriers to choice for employers and for individuals. Unless we see dramatic action to address them, major skills shortages will continue to blight individual businesses and damage the wider economy."
The EOC has also publishing results from a BMRB International survey of 1,000 people which show that over 90 per cent of people would want their children to make choices about work unconstrained by traditional stereotypes about which kinds of jobs are 'suitable' for men and women. The survey also indicates that today's young people lack enough information about job opportunities to enable them to make well-informed choices.
The survey found that that around half of men and women feel that the careers advice they received when leaving school was influenced by their gender.
The Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) scheme - designed to address skills shortages - comes in for particular criticism from the EOC. The system “is an important source of skills but it is entrenching traditional recruiting patterns and so contributing to skills shortages," the report claims.
Moreover, the gender breakdown for MA participation in key sectors where one sex greatly outnumbers the other shows that segregation is currently equal to or greater than segregation in the workforce. In engineering, for example, 6 per cent of those taking Foundation MAs (FMAs) were women, while 8 per cent of those working in engineering jobs were women.
The EoC called on the government to develop a national strategy to tackle gender segregation in training and work and remove the barriers faced by young people who want to train in a job usually done by the opposite sex.