Across Europe, the construction industry is facing skills and labour shortages. In France, the BTP program, launched in the Hauts-de-France region as part of the BUSLeague project aims at attracting more people to the industry, including women. The construction industry is often perceived as a difficult sector – often wrongly, and women only account for 2% of the workforce. The “Bâtis Ton Projet (BTP)” (Build Your Project) programme is there to open the doors of the industry to them, as well as men who are too often put off by the negative image of the sector.

At the panel where she has to assemble the drainpipes for an installation, Laurie is invested in her work. She doesn’t have much time to answer questions. “Plumbing isn’t really my thing,” she admits, recognising that she gets lost in the bends that need to be connected. “However, we found out that she has some serious skills in electrical installation. And that seems to suit her,” notes Laurence Le Dé, the employment advisor at the Lille Employment Center who is supervising this session. Laurie will be offered training in electrical installations. The opportunities are numerous, and the one who is currently employed in the cleaning of offices at night, will perhaps find a new professional path there.

A distorted image of the construction industry

Laurence Le Dé, Employment and Employer Relations Advisor at the Lille Employment Centre, ©DR

“Women” adds Laurence Le Dé, ” often have unexpected skills. The domestic life led them to a knowledge in DIY and various works, which can guide them to a professional knowledge specific to the building industry. But they are unaware of this and have often a distorted image of the building trades, which are not, by any means, just highly physically demanding jobs reserved for men”.

The “Bâtis ton projet” program set up its stands in the central square of Mons-en-Barœul, in the suburbs of Lille. The Practee Formations van has set up its stands, directly on the street. Here, we try our hand at painting. There, it is the installation of a tiling which occupies the visitors. Or they are still electrical installations to be connected or a water drainage system to be assembled. Under the guidance of the two trainers, Benjamin and Hubert, everyone tries their hand at it, discovering or not their abilities. And the desire to get involved.

A springboard to training and employment

The BTP program is not a training program per se. Laurence Le Dé, project manager for the Lille metropolitan area within the Lille Avenirs association, goes on enumerating the partners on which she relies. They are indeed numerous. Such as the House of Employment of Lille, using the “missions locales”, a public organisation for the employment of young people. But also Pôle Emploi and all the institutions of the professional integration sector (like here the CORIF, specialised in the integration of women), which provide the contingent of trainees, chosen among the job seekers that they supervise.

The initiative also relies on the various training organisations in the construction sector. They welcome the trainees and offer them adapted training in order to provide them with the necessary learning supplement. Companies in the sector are invited to join in. In Mons-en-Barœul, for example, two local company managers (one in carpentry, the other in electricity) are participating. They propose their needs and the jobs they can offer.

Far from the image of a hard worker

Construction offers many opportunities ©DR

The basic idea is to show the reality of the building trades. Far from the often off-putting image of the hard worker, because many of the jobs require fine skills, precise expertise much more than physical strength. It is also to allow each and everyone to test their aptitudes, tastes and to discover unknown potential.

“Our sessions last one afternoon,” says Laurence Le Dé. “We begin with a quiz. This questionnaire allows us to evaluate the level of each person. Their experiences, their difficulties, their background and their weaknesses that need to be compensated for in order to enter the job market in the long term.” It may be a primary training need, such as learning to read or count. It may also be a support needed for access to housing, assistance in obtaining a driver’s licence, a disability to be compensated for… Or some other obstacle to be overcome.

This first phase is immediately followed by the practical part. On Practee Formations’ panels, everyone can try their hand at something, like painting a panel, laying tiles or even an electrical installation… The trainers observe, do not impose anything, multiply the advice and especially encourage the good wills. Good humour is often the order of the day, and the pleasure of having completed a complicated assembly is valued.

80% of inclusion in the building industry

Women have knowledge in DIY and various works that can lead them to professional knowledge specific to the building industry. ©DR

At the end of the session, a report will be sent to the local partner (in this case the Mons-Villeneuve-d’Ascq Employment Center): to summarise the skills assessment and suggest one or more training paths. Depending on the situation, the partner organisations will be able to propose sessions that will lead the volunteers to a skill and, most often, to a job. The construction sector is open, and it is considered that 80% of those who start the process are permanently integrated.

The experience covers the whole region of Hauts-de-France. Practee Formations finds its local partners before moving on board its mobile van and installing, wherever possible, the demonstration panels. In total, in one year, more than 800 people, men and women, have been able to go through the system. “We estimate that half of the participants have been able to complete their trial with a lasting training. And in almost all cases a lasting job. For the others, it is just a passage. A return to the integration organisations to try their luck in another sector.

This project came to life as part of the BUSLeague international project co-funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework programme for research and innovation, dedicated to stimulate demand for sustainable energy skills in the construction sector.

Financing: the BTP program is co-financed by the Hauts-de-France Regional Council and, in the metropolitan area, by the MEL (Lille European Metropolis). At the national level, it is supported by the Alliance Villes Emploi – network of employment centers.

Author: Régis Verley, Journalist