350,000 people will be needed over the next five years, but in 1999 less than 1 per cent of national vocational qualification registrations in construction trades were for women under 21, reports the London Women in Manual Trades organisation.
Women who want to go into manual trades often get interested when they are older, but only under-25s are eligible for government training schemes.
Employers have little incentive to take them on when there is no subsidy.
And women who do get their qualifications rarely get the opportunity to work alongside more experienced trades people.
"Finding that first job is the hardest thing," said Carol Biggs of London Women in Manual Trades, "and construction is still a very conservative industry." Inflexible working hours and travelling from site to site make it difficult for women with dependents to sustain jobs on new-build projects.
They often end up doinglocal maintenance and repair work, with little opportunity to develop their skills.
Some try self-employment, but lack of experience and the difficulties of running a business for the first time cause many to go under.
Some colleges, such as Lambeth and Hammersmith and Fulham, run courses for women in manual trades and other units exist around the country, such as the motor vehicle unit in Sheffield. But funding has been cut, and there are fewer units than previously.
London Women in Manual Trades is presenting a conference in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry on Gender Equality in Career Choice on November 27. It will be at the DTI and is for careers advisors and anyone interested in promoting equal opportunities.
The organisation, which is supported by London boroughs, also has a database of women in manual trades who are willing to speak at careers events in schools.
Carol Biggs can be contacted at 52-54 Featherstone Street, London EC1Y 8RT. Tel. 0207 251 9192