Women in Leeds build bright futures in ‘male-dominated’ industry

Kelly Aitken.
Kelly Aitken.
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Determined mum-of-one Kelly Aitken has always enjoyed being outdoors and making things with her hands.

When she found herself looking for work, the 36-year-old could have followed in her mum’s footsteps and become a hairdresser.

But instead, she decided the time was right to pursue her dream of a career in construction.

After enrolling in a construction skills course with Leeds City Council, Kelly, from Belle Isle went on to start a three-year apprenticeship in bricklaying in 2008.

Today, she is a fully qualified bricklayer working on various sites for the council and couldn’t be happier with the path she chose.

She said: “I’d always loved making things since I was a kid and I just thought, if I really want to do something, I should do it.

“I love being outdoors and even when it’s cold and windy, I just love being on site.

“I don’t think of myself as any different and I’m just doing something I really enjoy.”

Seeing how hard Kelly has worked and how much she loves her job has also had a positive impact on her family, particularly her son Baily.

Kelly added: “Baily has seen how hard I’ve worked too and now he’s gone in for a plumbing course.”

Apprenticeships are now firmly established as a path into a huge variety of careers.

But women like Kelly who are making their way in what are traditionally considered as “male” jobs are still surprisingly rare.

Just three women in Leeds went in for apprenticeships in construction, planning and the built environment in the last year – while 264 men did the same.

The numbers reflect the national trend, with the recent Totally Wasted report by the Young Women’s Trust showing that 61 per cent of female apprentices work in the same five sectors – business administration, child development and learning, hairdressing, hospitality and catering.

In contrast, the national figures also show that just 18 per cent of male apprentices work in the same sectors, with more opting for jobs within construction and engineering sectors, along with finance, legal services and logistics.

But there’s not only a huge disparity in the types of apprenticeships that men and women are going into.

There’s also a notable gap in their chances of gaining a job in the industries they are choosing.

The recent report also shows that for every qualified construction worker, there are two vacancies to apply for.

However, for every job in hair and beauty, there are five qualified practitioners, making it much harder to secure work.

In an effort to highlight the issue of women pursuing a limited range of careers, the Leeds Enterprise Exchange recently held a free networking event in the city looking at girls’ transitions into the workplace and the fact that so many choose to pursue a limited range of careers.

Run by the council’s award-wining Education Business Partnership, the Enterprise Exchange is a free networking event that is aimed at bringing together employers, schools and others to help get young people into work and in turn help to boost the local economy.

Their latest event included speakers from the business and education sectors as well as workshops to discuss possible future solutions.

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for digital and creative technologies, culture and skills, said: “We’re proud to say that Leeds is a city filled with opportunities for male and female apprentices and that there are certainly no restrictions on them in terms of the choices they are able to make.

“But, as these figures show, it’s clear that a gender gap does still exist in the minds of young women which, unfortunately, may stop them taking that step into a career that they really want and which they could make a big success of.”

Councillor Yeadon added: “It’s important that we get the message out there that there is no such thing as a ‘man’s job’ or a ‘woman’s job’ – those kind of stereotypes are completely outdated.

“The opportunities are out there for women – they just have to want to take them.

“Apprenticeships are the perfect way to spread that message because they’re all about finding your way into a job that suits you as an individual.

“I hope in future we can see more women involved in some of the huge construction projects that are changing the face of Leeds.”

It’s a message that regeneration firm Keepmoat is also keen to get across.

The company is currently working on the major £198million Private Finance Initiative partnership with Leeds City Council.

The project will see 1,245 council homes refurbished and 388 new council properties built across the city.

Fiona Ratcliffe is the regional employment and skills coordinator at Keepmoat.

She said: “Our aim at Keepmoat is to encourage young women to gain a career in construction.

“This can sometimes prove difficult as the construction industry is still largely perceived as a male-dominated environment.

“We are aware that vacancies for main works construction are largely filled by male applicants and this is something we are trying our very best to combat.”

She added: “At Keepmoat, we hope that by working with primary and secondary schools and by offering information about exciting opportunities within the construction industry, that we are changing the face of construction for future generations and in turn filling vacancies with both male and female applicants.”

Apprenticeships are available in around 1,500 jobs covering 170 sectors.

These range from administration and accountancy roles to opportunities within the construction and engineering sector.

And Leeds usually has more than 100 live vacancies at any one time.

For more information or to apply for apprenticeships, you can visit the website at www.leeds.gov.uk/leedsapphub.

The website also offers the chance to upload your CV, browse any upcoming vacancies, get tips on how to apply, information on the various levels of apprenticeships and details of useful apprentice events going on in the city.

Alternatively, you can also follow @LeedsAppHub on Twitter to find out more or to get the latest updates.