Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) celebrated Women in Construction Week (7-14 March) by encouraging women to apply for new repairs and construction jobs.
YHN has long marked the national awareness week around getting more women into construction jobs, and this year sought to encourage more women to register interest in its upcoming repairs and construction services vacancies.
David Langhorne, Assets and Development director at YHN, said: “YHN has a long history of working to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion across the organisation and this is something our executive team is particularly passionate about.
“Although we have many women in leadership roles – including our managing director – we recognise that there are certain areas of our business where we need to do more to have a truly representative workforce.
“Our repairs and construction service has some fantastic female employees who are a real credit to our organisation, but they are still significantly outnumbered by their male colleagues, and that’s something we’re committed to improving.
“We have made some positive changes following feedback from female staff recently, including buying in specific female uniforms when we updated them for our repairs and construction staff, and I’m working with the Women in Social Housing group to further increase our knowledge around making our workforce as inclusive as possible for women.
“Our repairs and construction service is going from strength to strength at the moment, and we will soon be recruiting more staff – we’d definitely like to hear from women who are interested in these roles! People can register their interest now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.”
YHN has a strong track record of ensuring it is a diverse place to work and the organisation has three staff network groups designed to ensure everyone can be themselves at work.
The groups, which support staff who identify as LGBT, are disabled, or identify as BME – or have an interest in the diversity of cultures employed by YHN – provide feedback on internal and external policy decisions and raise awareness of equality issues with staff and customers.
YHN is an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) set up by Newcastle City Council in 2004 to manage and improve council homes and related housing services in Newcastle upon Tyne.
YHN now manages 26,000 City Council properties and around 700 Leazes Homes properties.
April Halligan, 22, from Birmingham moved to Newcastle around 10 years ago and started an apprenticeship with Newcastle City Council in 2016.
Having completed her apprenticeship, Hannah now works as a bricklayer, with typical jobs including concreting and laying flagstones, building garden walls, and fitting new drains when laying a new pavement.
April said: “I’ve been wanting to do bricklaying since I was kid. I’ve always been fascinated with it. I was six and my grandad took me to a building site he was working on and that just stuck with me for the rest of my life.
“I remember seeing scaffolding and big buildings; obviously I didn’t know what they were at the time, but I was really excited.
“My mum used to tell my grandad off for coming back and forth in the house with his muddy riggers on and I never really knew why – now I get told off for the same thing.
“My favourite toy as a kid was Lego, and I just used to love building things with the blocks. But at school, I never felt like construction was an option for me to go into because there weren’t any other females who were interested in this profession.”
How does she find working in a job that has traditionally been seen to be a male role?
“For me, I think it has changed and a lot of it depends on you as an individual. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting dressed up in my heels, but I’ve got four brothers and grew up around males. Since working at the council, I’ve never felt uncomfortable and always had praise from the lads telling me it’s great I decided to get into it.
“I have had a lot of customers who question me when I turn up to the job:
‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’ve come to do your pointing.’
‘Well how are you going to lift the plant plots?’
“Quite often, I don’t get thanked by individuals when I’m working with someone on a job – they say ‘thanks mate, you’ve done a cracking job’ but don’t address me.
“But then others are really complimentary. One man was driving down the street and stopped and said: ‘You’re a credit to us all, never seen a female bricklayer – it’s brilliant, and you should be so proud of yourself’.
“It would be great if more women were encouraged into the industry – I think a lot of women may think it’s too hard or that they’ll get judged, but it really isn’t like that.
“I like the challenge of coming across something I haven’t done before and then standing back and looking at the finished product – for instance, I’ve just built a wall!
“Why shouldn’t we do this work? We do just as good a job.”
Hannah Porter, 26, from Northumberland, has been an electrician with Newcastle City Council for almost 10 years.
She said: “I applied for an apprenticeship a few weeks after leaving school – without any interview experience I knew I would struggle trying to get job experience elsewhere.
“I didn’t expect to be offered the apprenticeship a few days later, which was amazing!
“I chose electrical as my uncle is an electrician and, at the time, he was rewiring a research centre in Antarctica, which proved to me you could take this profession anywhere.
“I never ever thought I would end up in construction, I was always leaning towards an art and design-based job, however, I knew at age 16 it would be a great step into a job where I had something I could fall back on if needed.
“I personally think leaving school at 16 is such a young age to know exactly what you want to do in life, and an apprenticeship for me was a great thing – it built my personal skills going straight into an adult workplace, it was something practical which I knew I was good at, and it was a full time paid job at the end of the day; it meant I could buy my own driving lessons and save up to travel which at the time I thought was amazing. I chose electrical based on my uncle, knowing I could always ask him if I ever needed help through it.
“This definitely wasn’t a career presented to me growing up; the school I attended never advised apprenticeships as something to do once you left school, we were always pressured into attending [higher education].
“A skill-based apprenticeship was never spoken about, which to me, now, I find very strange as I always tell younger people to head toward apprenticeships rather than the other options.
“Schools these days are very academic based, but for someone like me who wasn’t very good with the pressure of exams and coursework yet practically was really good, an apprenticeship worked.
“I got paid to learn on the job whilst having time to attend college, with support from every direction either from my mentors at work or by my college tutors.
“My school advised apprenticeships as something you do if you fail in school, but it’s the total opposite – I needed my main GCSEs, I needed people skills, I needed the mindset of wanting to work.
“In no way is it easier or harder than the other options you’re faced with leaving school, it just all depends on how your mind works.
“With me, I’m much more hands on and practical. That’s why it worked for me.”
And how does she feel about working in an area where the majority of her colleagues are men and there is an expectation from customers that a man will do her job?
“In the 10 years I have been here, it has changed for the better, yet in my opinion it will always be seen as a masculine environment.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t knock at a door and the response is ‘Eeeh a woman’. It’s not the known thing for women to be doing a job like this, to be fixing your toilet, installing your lights or fitting you a new front door.
“Addressing this is actually something I have been involved in since I started my apprenticeship, with JTL who were the learning provider for apprenticeships.
“We got together a group of women across the country who worked in construction, and we would meet up regularly to discuss how we could raise awareness of the lack of female apprentices in this industry.
“We even held an event in the House of Commons when I was 18 to promote our initiative.
“Still, to this day, it is a struggle for women in construction – the simple things like female uniforms have been hard to get hold off. Female toilets on sites and even in main construction buildings are things we’ve had to ask for.
“Every job you can predict they will say ‘eeeh a woman’! Me and my colleague female colleagues always laugh about it, especially if we are paired up on a job together and the customer is taken back by it.
“The majority of customers are really great about it, quite supportive of females working in construction, some have said that they wish they could have gone into a trade, yet it wasn’t supported.
“I love the days where we are appreciated, as does everyone, however when we get a job and the customer doesn’t think anything different about you being female, it brings a bit of normality to your job role.
“It’s also my favourite job when you get elderly tenants who really enjoy having the company, especially this past year through this pandemic.
“It has been a really lonely time for some people, so I’m more than happy to chat away while I’m there doing a job for the customer – it puts a smile on their face, and I could have been the only person they’ll see that week.
“I do like seeing people and when you make their day for something as small as fixing their light fitting or getting their cooker working, it just makes your day as well – I believe it takes nothing to be nice to people, and that’s when I enjoy my job.”
How important does Hannah think it is that more women are encouraged to work in the industry?
“It’s really important because we need to knock down this barrier that thinks woman can’t do a practical, hands on job in construction.
“There have been times where it has been tough, where I’ve not been as strong as some of the lads, but over the years I have got much better at knowing my strengths in my job.
“It also isn’t supported enough in schools I think. No girl is asked, ‘Do you want to be an electrician or plumber when you grow up?’
“To any young women or girls reading this and thinking about a career in construction, I would say go for it! The support is definitely there in the workplace and, if it isn’t, don’t stand for that.
“I couldn’t have finished my apprenticeship without the support from everyone at work. I’ve never come across one male that I work alongside who has said I shouldn’t be here or doing this job, they have all helped me along the way.
“It also grows your people skills, you deal with customers and work colleagues every day. Don’t focus on the hard things that you may come across, like someone disagreeing that a female is in construction or that you’re having to ask for help because you might not be able to lift something on your own.
“It’s all about showing all of your skills and what you can bring to the workforce.
“If more women stepped into construction, then the façade that it is masculine job would be gone.”
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