The programme has attracted support from the private sector and is being backed by leading construction firm Gilbert-Ash and JMC Mechanical and Construction Ltd.
The programme is designed to give people, mainly women, who are struggling to get a job an opportunity to explore their options in the construction industry. Accredited training in plumbing, joinery, painting and decorating, tiling, horticulture and IT will equip them for the world of work.
The SPEC (Supporting People – Empowering Communities) programme is funded by the European Social Fund and Department of Employment and Learning and has secured investment from Belfast City Council. WOMEN’STEC Chief Executive, Lynn Carvill, says the initiative is the first such private, voluntary and public sector partnership of its kind.
“This is a historic departure as it is the first time we have secured significant private sector sponsorship,” said Lynn. “Students will start their training on various trades by sampling courses before moving on to OCN-accredited courses. These courses will be complemented with confidence-building, money management, job readiness and enterprise programmes – offering a full range of opportunities to students.
“WOMEN’STEC works with women who are furthest removed for the labour market, many of whom are lone parents. These women can experience specific barriers to accessing training and moving into work. The Supporting People – Empowering Communities programme will tackle these barriers by providing onsite childcare and travel expenses where needed.”
The SPEC programme is a partnership between WOMEN’STEC and Clanmil Housing, who provides almost 4,000 social homes throughout Northern Ireland. Clanmil Chief Executive Clare McCarty explained, “As well as a good home, we want the people who live in the homes we provide to get the most from life and to reach their full potential.
“The SPEC programme is one of a number of initiatives we’re introducing at Clanmil to support our tenants in developing their communities and to help those who need it to gain the confidence and skills to progress into accredited training and ultimately employment. We are very excited to work’ with WOMEN’STEC on this project and are particularly pleased that our Maintenance Contractor, JMC, is one of the sponsors supporting the programme.”
Sophia Kyle, a Clanmil tenant who has taken part in a recent SPEC project, added, “I recently enjoyed taking part in a gardening project in my neighbourhood with Clanmil and WOMEN’STEC. All of my neighbours got together to improve our communal garden, as a community. We got to know each other better, got our hands dirty and learned some new gardening skills at the same time. This has really sparked my interest in learning more new skills and I am looking forward to getting involved in more projects. Who knows where this will take me!”
Gilbert Ash is the first private sector backer of a WOMEN’STEC programme. Ray Hutchinson, Managing Director of Gilbert-Ash, said, “We are pleased to be able to partner with WOMEN’STEC on their latest programme. At present, two of the main issues in the construction sector are the shortage of skills and the under-representation of women. Our workforce is currently 24% females, 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. Our partnership with WOMEN’STEC is an important part of our strategy to raise the profile of construction as an industry of choice to work in and to attract more women into the sector. The training and opportunities WOMEN’STEC are providing local women are invaluable and partnering with them was a natural fit. We look forward to developing our partnership further and helping local women find employment in the construction sector.”
Tracey Victor of JMC Mechanical and Construction Ltd added, “We’re delighted to be part of the Clanmil team providing maintenance services to the people who live in Clanmil homes and it makes perfect sense for us to get involved with this project to support those same people gain essential employability skills. Also, as a company working in the construction industry we know the value of training and welcome any initiative that increases the pool of skilled workers.”
SPEC aims to grow and improve skills across the City of Belfast, linking with Belfast City Council’s forthcoming Employability and Skills Strategy. It will address the skills and employment deficit in the construction industry and add value to existing community development activities, progressing community cohesion across Clanmil residential area.
Councillor Carole Howard, Deputy Chair of the City Growth and Regeneration Committee at Belfast City Council, which helped fund the project, welcomed the initiative.
“The council’s Belfast Employability and Skills Framework and action plan for the next 10 years is currently out for public consultation but among its aims are to increase the employment rate in Belfast and reduce the proportion of the working population with no qualifications. It will also look at lower level skills development and provision and aim to ensure employability skills for all.”
Permanent Secretary at the Department for Employment and Learning, Derek Baker has welcomed the new opportunities being created which will enable women to secure relevant qualifications to help them move into sustainable employment.
He said, “I am delighted that the Department’s European Social Fund Programme will be providing funding for the Supporting People – Empowering Communities programme. This innovative new programme should equip women with the relevant skills and qualifications to enable them to secure employment or consider self employment. The partnership approach involving WOMEN’STEC and Clanmil Housing should ensure success for the participants.”