This week (4th - 8th March) is National Apprenticeship Week, the annual celebration of the impact of apprenticeships on individuals, employers and the economy.
Apprenticeships are vital to the future of the construction industry yet, according to Women on the Tools, a charity aiming to boost career opportunities for women in the construction sector, just 11% of the UK construction industry workforce is female, and women make up only one per cent of skilled construction tradespeople.
Jelson Homes has a thriving apprenticeship programme and currently employs two female trades apprentices – bricklayer Katie Smith and painter/decorator Bridie Kilby.
Both women have proved that they’re more than a match for their male colleagues. Katie was named Princes’ Trust Young Achiever of the Year for the central region in 2018 (pictured above) and also won the Jewson-sponsored ‘On The Tools’ Apprentice of the Year award.
Bridie, meanwhile, came in the top three in the Painting and Decorating category in the National SkillBuild championships, and is competing this year for a place in the British squad for the World Skills Championships in Shanghai in 2021 – the Olympics of the skills world.
Katie, 29, who loves her job so much she has a trowel tattooed on the back of her hand, has caught the imagination of the media and has been featured on BBC News and trade magazines since winning the Princes Trust award.
“My Jelson apprenticeship has been the best three years of my life,” she told Showhouse magazine last month, “developing my skills from quite early on, learning all areas of my job, from the footings to the gables.
“I have built corbels – I never thought I would have been able to – and arches and jointed walls where I have stood back and been really proud of the end result.”
Katie’s long-term ambition is to open her own women-friendly building firm and encourage other girls to go into construction.
19-year-old Bridie Kilby also wants to be her own boss. “I would like to continue working for Jelson to gain more experience and skills,” she said. “When I am satisfied that I am ready, I will build up my own clientele and become self-employed. Working for myself is where I see myself in ten years’ time.”
Bridie didn’t have a clear idea what she wanted to do after GCSEs apart from knowing she didn’t want to do A levels, despite having the grades.
“I asked my mum for advice and she suggested doing something different than the typical girls’ course, like hair & beauty. I enjoyed art at school so chose painting and decorating. I took the risk, started my level 1 course and loved it.
“I like the variety: different colour schemes, tasks, places of work, meeting different people. I also find the work therapeutic, which allows me to zone out and focus on nothing but the work.”
Despite the traditional macho image of building sites, neither Bridie or Katie have been treated differently by their male colleagues.
“Do not be scared off by guys, because it’s really not that bad,” advises Katie. “Nine times out of ten they are just worried that my brickwork is going to be better than theirs!
“I’ve only experienced negativity from one or two lads, and I’m not going to let them put me off when 99% of the people I work with treat me no differently because I’m a girl.”
Bridie agrees. “I haven’t received negative comments – yet! I’m quite laid-back and get on well with the men at college and work. Times are changing now and a person’s gender does not define how well they can do a job.”
Both women believe their experience with Jelson Homes will set them up for a bright future in construction.
“It feels good to be given a chance,” says Katie. “I think a lot of other companies would have been like, ‘Nah, she’s a girl, she’s not going to be able to do it.
“Jelson have been really good allowing me to do events and led me forward with my career. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be where I was today, their first-ever female bricklayer.”
“Jelson are an excellent company to work for,” says Bridie. “I have a lot of support from my bosses and supervisor and I would very much like to continue working for Jelson until I am ready to follow my dreams of working for myself.”
“I am delighted that the girls have adapted so well to site life and are paving the way for more young women in construction,” says Jelson HR officer Anne De Vere Hunt.
“We are so proud of all of our apprentices for their hard work, determination and all of their achievements.”
To find out more about apprenticeships with Jelson Homes, visit www.jelson.co.uk/jelson-academy or call 0116 266 1541.