'We offer firms and organisations a skilled workforce of willing and capable women'
Joris Minne meets Lynn Carvill of Women'sTec to hear about how it helps females succeed
Northern Ireland firms are waking up to the fact that unless they pay attention to areas of social inequalities, their future might not be so rosy. Lynn Carvill heads up Women'sTec, a community organisation whose objective is to get women who face the toughest barriers to engage in skills training. These include single parents, women who might not have enough money to pay for the bus fare to the training scheme, and those excluded due to casual, every day discrimination. But, she says, she detects a change in the air.
"There is a sense of understanding and willingness and even social conscience in a growing number of companies that investing in areas of society that are disadvantaged is good for their bottom line, and not just to tick their social responsibility box," Lynn said.
She cites a forthcoming project placing hundreds of women in schemes in sectors traditionally associated with men which is being backed by Gilbert Ash and JMC Mechanical and Construction.
"We are announcing a joint scheme next week which will be backed by the private sector as well as the Department for Employment and Learning and Belfast City Council," she says. "This will be a historic leap forward in bringing the private, public and voluntary sectors together."
But surely in the face of the savage and relentless cuts faced by every sector in Northern Ireland, she must despair at what the future holds?
"Funding crises force new ways of thinking," Lynn replies. "We can't just sit there and cry away our futures because funding is reduced. We have to find new ways of doing things and new sources to pay for them. You would be surprised, as I have been, by how many companies - firms which rely on growth and profit in an increasingly precarious economy - are keen to invest in social programmes."
Carvill looks back on the early days of the peace process and says these triggered a golden age of funding. In the 21st century, the harsh realities of a shrunken economy mean the first to feel the brunt of the cut backs is the third or voluntary sector.
"Now we need partnerships, but we aren't just going cap in hand looking for charity," Lynn says. "We offer firms and organisations a resource - a skilled workforce of women who are willing and capable.
The most recent Women'sTec programme, Extending Training in the Community, which finished in March this year, resulted in women obtaining more than 400 qualifications. Eighty of those went onto further education, 43 into employment and 13 became self-employed.
The organisation is unique to Northern Ireland. No other such body exists in the UK. It is less rare in Europe and, says Lynn, we need to look to Europe more, in the same way as the Republic of Ireland does.
"Funding for specific projects aimed at creating a more equal playing field and offering opportunities to all genders, races and religions is still available in Europe," she adds. "I am surprised at how much less appetite we in Northern Ireland have for European money than say our neighbours in the south."
Ultimately, the mission is a reflection of Women in Business: to create a new economy. "The economy is nowhere nearly as healthy as it could be, but how can it get better when it excludes women from participation?" Lynn asks. "Of the 359 apprenticeships in the construction and construction crafts programme this year, four were women. But watch this space, as things are about to change."
James Street South, Belfast
Lynn had: Crab on toast - £7.00
Grilled mushroom - £7.00
Joris had: Warm herring and potato salad - £8.50
Pork pie and piccalilli - £6.50
French fries - £3.00
Sparkling water - £4.50
Espresso x 2 - £4.80