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

In excess of 200 students participated on the Supporting People – Empowering Communities (SPEC) programme over the year, which is run in partnership with Clanmil Housing Group and part funded by the Northern Ireland European Social Fund 2014-2020 and Department for the Economy.

Participants have gained 216 qualifications over the year in courses such as plumbing, carpentry, painting and decorating, electrics, 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 backed by leading construction firms Gilbert-Ash Ltd 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 at the event today. 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 around 13.4%, our training programmes are invaluable.

“Through the SPEC programme, part funded by Belfast City Council and private sector organisations, Gilbert-Ash Ltd construction group and JMC Mechanical and Construction Ltd, training schemes for more than 500 participants who face difficult barriers to employment and training have been provided over the past three years.”

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

Clare continues, “We’re pleased to be working in partnership with WOMEN’STEC and have seen some very positive results. We recognise how SPEC engages people to give something back to their community and we’re delighted that the Electrics Student Award this year went to Mandy Morrison, one of our tenants, for excelling in her course work. It was also wonderful to hear from another of our tenants, Ana Semedo, who gave a really inspirational talk at the event about how she is working towards her personal goals of opening up her own business, and the invaluable support that has been provided by staff from WOMEN’STEC and Clanmil.”

The Student of the Year Award was presented by Carmel McKinney of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service to Jess Geddis who completed an accredited Carpentry course and personal development courses. Carmel stated, “I am delighted to see an increasing number of women interested in learning non-traditional skills and I’m delighted that Jess is keen to progress and improve her skills and has been working part-time using what she has learned from the course. Jess, like many of her peers, has overcome a range of barriers to pursue new learning opportunities and she has succeeded in taking on new challenges. She is a real inspiration.”

Ray Hutchinson, Managing Director of Gilbert-Ash Ltd says, “We are pleased to be able to partner with WOMEN’STEC. Two of the main issues in the construction sector are the shortage of skills and the under-representation of women. Our workforce is currently 21% 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.”

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Jess Geddis from Lurgan was presented Women’s Tec Student of Year 2018 by Carmel McKinney OBE of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.

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Ana Semedo gives an inspirational talk at the WOMEN’STEC Gala Awards about her plans to start her own business.

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Catherine McCoy received the WOMEN’STEC Carpentry Award 2018 for outstanding achievement, presented by Maria Bradley from Gilbert-Ash Ltd.