Just before the end of the academic year, I presented my first ‘Women in construction’ workshop at Northwood School.
There is a large shortfall of women working in the construction and engineering industry. Only 11% of the construction workforce are women and only 1% of people working on sites are women.
My aim was to talk to girls embarking on their GCSE journey about having a career in this field. I wanted to highlight how rewarding the industry is and the different routes to get there.
I had a class of 30 year 8 girls age (age 13). I approached Northwood School, because I attended the school myself. I wanted to show the girls someone who works in the industry who had studied where they do and had the same opportunities as them.
To start with I told them a little about myself: who I am, my role at VGC, and what is interesting about my job. I then did a survey of the various industries that they are interested in. No one picked construction. One picked rail and a couple picked engineering. The majority favoured technology over the other careers.
We watched a couple of videos: one from ICE (Institution of Civil Engineering), and one by Michelle. She is a young site engineer who does YouTube videos showing what it’s like to be a women on a construction site. Her video was especially well received – the girls found it funny and interesting. I’ve fed this back to Michelle and she’s going to film one specially for me. It’ll be tailored for my workshops, so I can use something more specific to the year group.
I talked about construction and engineering in their local area – showing photos of their school, the train station they use to travel to school and the roads. I showed them pictures of impressive buildings in London and around the world: all designed and constructed by engineers.
We then split the group into teams to play “Guess who”. I had created four boards with faces of various ages and genders. In front of each board were a number of cards with a job title, brief synopsis of what that job entails and salary bracket. The girls had to read the job and place the card under the picture of the person. Many of the girls chose the higher paid roles for the men. When asked why, one girl simply said “because men are always paid more than women”.
Their comments struck a chord with me. They solidified the reason why I need to keep doing these workshops to as many young girls as possible. We need to show them the rewarding careers they could have, as well as being exposed to inspiring successful women in these fields.
Routes into the industry
We went on to talk about the different ways you can enter the industry. I gave each of them a hand-out to keep showing the various routes in their education they could take: GSCEs, apprenticeships, college or university. This was very popular and spurred on a lot of discussion. In fact, as the girls were leaving they were still talking about whether they would prefer apprenticeships or university.
I gave the students an opportunity to try on some of the VGC PPE that I had brought with me. They enjoyed this and this led to a discussion on the reasons why we have different coloured PPE.
We reflected on everything we talked about, and had a question and answer session.
At the end I conducted the same survey as at the start. I was delighted that the workshop changed their opinions about working in a career in construction. Eight girls picked construction, four rail, and eight engineering.
Feedback was excellent overall. A lot of girls said they would like to learn more about the different roles in construction and engineering, and this is something I am now going to incorporate into my next workshop. They also really enjoyed the game and said they would have liked to do more interactive games.
All in all it was a roaring success. I’m now looking forward to going back to the school and doing more work with the girls.