Training blueprint aims to get more women into construction
A major skills training initiative aimed at getting more than 500 women into the construction industry over the next three years has been unveiled.
There are more than 500 training places available in the industry-backed and supported programme, which is the first of its kind for Northern Ireland.
The participants will achieve accredited training in plumbing, joinery, painting and decorating, tiling, horticulture and IT.
Training agency Women'sTec and Clanmil Housing Group are behind the programme, aimed at women who face barriers getting into employment.
John Armstrong, managing director of the Constructors Employers Federation (CEF), said the scheme will assist in the "crucial need" for skilled employees.
"It's vital that a regular stream of highly-skilled people are coming into the workforce, and it's also important that we seek to address the gender balance within the industry," he said.
The programme has attracted support from the private construction sector, and is backed by Belfast firm Gilbert-Ash and JMC Mechanical and Construction, from Craigavon.
It's a partnership between Women'sTec and Clanmil Housing, which provides almost 4,000 social homes.
And it's funded by the European Social Fund and Department of Employment and Learning (DEL), with financial backing from Belfast City Council.
Gilbert-Ash is the first private sector backer of a Women'sTec programme.
Managing director Ray Hutchinson said: "Our workforce is currently 24% female, well above the industry average of 13.4%, but we are continuing to work proactively to make sure that we always hire the best candidate for the job."
Tracey Victor of JMC Mechanical and Construction said: "It makes perfect sense for us to get involved with this project to support those same people gain essential employability skills.
"We welcome any initiative that increases the pool of skilled workers."
Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it was a "move in the right direction which will assist with filling gaps in the labour market". "The programme opens a host of opportunities not only in training for various trades, but also the fact that these courses will be complemented with money," she said.
Sophia Kyle from Belfast is one woman who may benefit from the training courses, which begin next January.
A Clanmil tenant, she recently took part in a neighbourhood gardening project.
"This has really sparked my interest in learning more new skills and I am looking forward to getting involved in more projects," she said.
Women'sTec chief executive Lynn Carvill described the programme as a "historic departure". "These courses will be complemented with confidence-building, money management, job readiness and enterprise programmes - offering a full range of opportunities to students."
And Derek Baker of DEL said the "innovative new programme should equip women with the relevant skills and qualifications to enable them to secure employment or consider self-employment".
While the programme is mainly based in the Belfast area, it will extend to other areas where a cluster of students can be found.