Vocational training has had a long history in the education system in Northern Ireland, helping individuals to gain the skills and knowledge needed for a successful career. The first ever European Vocational Skills Week from 5-9 December 2016 celebrates the value of vocational education.
Local people have shared their stories of how vocational education has helped them get promoted, retrain in a new career, and get back into education to further their ambitions. For anyone considering a career in construction, female apprentice Natalie Parker is a great example.
The 19-year-old from Lisburn is just one of a handful of young women across the province pursuing a career in the male dominated construction industry and is the only female in her class.
Natalie is currently studying towards an apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery at South Eastern Regional College (SERC). Natalie is in her third year of study, and is employed by LG Contracting, Ballinderry where she works as a carpentry apprentice.
After completing her GCSEs Natalie decided to study hospitality, but soon realised that it wasn’t for her. Having worked on a farm most of her life, Natalie said she ‘wanted something hands-on and outdoors’. But it wasn’t until her sister suggested studying carpentry that Natalie realised it was what she wanted to do as a career. So she attended an open day at the College with her parents, liked the modern workshop and, after talking with the tutors, decided to enrol.
Natalie said, “My family were all proud of my career choice. I like doing something different and being outdoors. My father was always very encouraging and convinced me to go into the industry. My mum does worry about me being on-site but she knows I’m in good hands.”
Natalie has worked in the industry for about two years as an apprentice, working four days on-site and one day at college. Once she completes Level 2, Natalie plans to progress to the Level 3 programme where she will have another two years’ apprenticeship to complete before she will be a fully qualified carpenter.
Natalie explained, “The best part of the job is seeing the finished product. The worst part is working in the rain or the freezing weather at this time of year! I also enjoy being out and about.”
Natalie said women should not be put off by an all-male workplace and encouraged them to embrace the opportunity to push the boundaries.
When asked how she finds working and studying with males Natalie said, “I went to a mixed school so I was used to having boys in my class. But spending all day with them without any girl talk was strange at first, but it didn’t take me long to feel at home. The guys are really good. They help me out if I need it.
“I don’t see myself as any different to the guys – yes I am female but I know I can do the job just as good and if not better than them.”
Natalie encouraged other school leavers to follow their dreams. She added, “If you are interested in construction, give carpentry a go. If you like it just go for it. Visit the college open day, speak to the tutors and tour the workshops. It was the best decision I ever made.”
SERC carpentry and joinery tutor Francis Rice who has taught 3 female apprentices on the programme and said, “Natalie has been a stand-out student since she started. She has a natural talent for carpentry and shows great dedication and enthusiasm to improving her skills. During her time at SERC, Natalie was won numerous awards for her high quality of work and commitment to learning, which earned her the Trainee of the Year award at last year’s College Excellence awards and the Murdock Builder’s Level 1 Trainee of the Year in 2014. She has an eye for the finer details and is very organised. We welcome female enrolments on our construction courses and would encourage more females to enrol.”
Natalie specialises in site carpentry and hopes to pursue a career in construction as well as travel to Australia and New Zealand on completion of her course.