Last Thursday I attended a panel debate with Women on the Tools and NICEIC. It was a debate to discuss how to encourage more women into the manual trades within the Construction industry. On the panel were Emma Clancy - CEO on NICEIC, Andrea Kelmanson - CEO of Women on the Tools, Simon Bartley - President of WorldSkills and Baroness Sue Garden - House of Lords. It was a rare opportunity to get together with a large number of those women working in the electrical trades and discuss with them their views on the industry and its future.
It was good to see that alongside the obvious need to keep working at making manual trades accessible to females who want to begin a career in construction, that there are open, honest discussions with input from the right people - tradeswomen, trade bodies, organisations and those working towards making at change in the industry for the better.
There were a number of the key points I took from it. Firstly, the age at which it becomes difficult to become an apprentice. What must be appreciated is that where construction opportunities are more available, after a certain age it becomes more difficult. We heard from one electrician who had funded herself through her studies, and then sourced work for another electrician who would then teach her - she effectively worked for free. It needs to be easier for those over 30 to get apprenticeships that are funded if we are to see an increase in female tradeswomen.
Another key point was the importance of getting parents involved and on board at an early age. Apprenticeships are a commitment and involve a lot of work that students do not necessarily experience whilst at school. Having the support of parents is key for the success, not only to ensure younger students stay on track, but also simple things such as having food ready when they get home or to give words of encouragement. The support system for apprentices is key.
Lastly the value of apprenticeships. One participant shared a story of her experience at her child's school, where the headteacher listed all the options available to students - A-Levels, university and finally suggesting that apprenticeships were for the least academic pupils. This is absolutely not the case and from the discussions in the room we concluded that apprenticeships are for anyone regardless of perceived ability. The government is rolling out the apprenticeship levy from today and if people are to take up apprenticeships they have to be seen to have equal value as A-Levels and if continued, a degree. Without these, degrees will be promoted over apprenticeships despite not always being the best option for the student and their career.
Getting parents involved and having schools promoting apprenticeships positively and demonstrating that they are for everyone is key.
Trades are excellent, skilled jobs and are all too often seen as a route into another area of the construction industry. This shouldn't be the immediate thought, a career in a mechanical or electrical trade, or as a painter, carpenter or joiner could be for you. If you are interested in one of these follow @womenonthetools , @NICEIC @k10apprenticeships (if you live in London) or @helping16to21s or Bath/ Bristol area) on twitter or tweet me @jesstabibi