The annual WOMEN’STEC Gala Awards took place on 15 March 2016 at Belfast City Hall to celebrate and showcase the achievements and innovation of women in non-traditional skills training.

In the past year, in excess of 140 students participated on the Supporting People – Empowering Communities (SPEC) programme ran in partnership with Clanmil Housing Group and part funded by the Northern Ireland European Social Fund 2014-2020 – Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme, the Department of Employment and Learning.

Participants gained 115 qualifications in courses such as plumbing, joinery, painting and decorating, tiling, horticulture, information technology and first aid, helping to equip them for the world of work. The programme has received resounding support from the construction industry and partner organisations and is being backed by leading construction firm Gilbert-Ash and JMC Mechanical and Construction Ltd.

Lynn Carvill, Chief Executive of WOMEN’STEC stated: “It is with great pleasure that we recognise the hard work of our students.  Many of these women have overcome considerable barriers to take part in our courses.  With the shortage of skills and the under-representation of women in the construction sector – with an industry average of only 13.4% – our training programmes are invaluable.

“Through the SPEC programme, part funded by the Northern Ireland European Social Fund 2014-2020 – Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme, the Department of Employment and Learning, Belfast City Council and private sector organisations, Gilbert-Ash Construction Group and JMC Mechanical and Construction Ltd, training schemes for more than 500 participants who face difficult barriers to employment and training are to be created in the next three years thanks to our new programme.”

Clanmil Housing Group, Chief Executive, Clare McCarty says: “Through the SPEC programme our tenants are gaining confidence, new skills and are developing new friendships with their neighbours – so important in creating sustainable communities. Tenants have been really enthusiastic about the courses and are finding them both enjoyable and rewarding.

“We’re pleased to be working in partnership with WOMEN’STEC and are already seeing positive results. It is lovely to celebrate successes with our tenants who are receiving accredited certificates today. We’re also delighted that a group of Clanmil residents have received the Community Award – recognising how they have used their SPEC course to give something back to their community.”

Eleanor McEvoy, CEO of Budget Energy, presented the Student of the Year Award to joinery student Aine McLaughlin. She said: “As a woman in a non-traditional industry myself, I am delighted to support the increasing interest of women wanting to learn a trade. Aine, like many of her peers, has overcome a range of barriers to pursue her childhood goals and has succeeded in returning to learn within her chosen subject.”

Ray Hutchinson, Managing Director of Gilbert-Ash says: “We are pleased to be able to partner with WOMEN’STEC. 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% female, well above the industry average, and we are continuing to work proactively to raise the profile of construction as an industry of choice for everyone.”

Tracy Victor of JMC Mechanical and Construction Ltd commented: “We’re delighted to be part of the Clanmil team providing maintenance services to the people who live in Clanmil homes. It makes perfect sense for us to get involved with this project and to support employability within the construction industry.”

Councillor Deirdre Hargey, Chair of Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee said: “The work of WOMEN’STEC fits with the Council’s Belfast Employability and Skills Framework and Action Plan and its aims to address employability and skills challenges in the city. The Gala Awards at City Hall can help to raise the profile of women and construction as an industry of choice.”