As a leading provider of employability, skills and justice services, the Seetec Group has a track record in supporting women who are challenging the norm and pushing the boundaries within male dominated industries.
The 8thMarch marks International Women’s Day (IWD), a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, and Seetec is proud to celebrate some of the women it has worked with who are thriving in male-dominated industries.
Saskia Blight and Natalie Bell are both proud to be following their career ambitions and want to encourage more women not to let gender stereotypes hold them back.
Women are currently believed to only make up 1% of the road haulage workforce*, but there are signs this is changing, especially given the ongoing shortage of HGV drivers.
One woman who has been forging a new path for herself in this industry is Saskia Blight, 30. A mother of three from Whitton, Middlesex, she recently enrolled onto Thames Water’s Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) driver apprenticeship programme.
Saskia’s previous work experience couldn’t have been more different, working with babies and young children in a nursery. However, Saskia had been looking for a new career and had always enjoyed driving, so she applied for the apprenticeship vacancy with utilities company Thames Water.
Saskia explains: “I’ve always loved driving! Ever since passing my driving test I’ve enjoyed being out on the road, so this is the ideal career choice for me. I want to show my children that it’s possible to be a mother and succeed at a career you love too!
“I also knew I wanted to work for Thames Water. As an employer, they are incredibly supportive of women returning to the workforce, which is important when it comes to planning shifts around childcare.
“The apprenticeship lasts just over a year, and in that time I will be learning the theory behind safe and fuel-efficient driving, how to prepare large goods vehicles and their load for deliveries, and how to plan routes effectively.
“It really is no different for women than it is for men. If you love driving as much as I do, then don’t be put off by traditional perceptions of the role. There’s an ongoing shortage of drivers in the UK right now, so plenty of well-paid and exciting job opportunities are on offer.”
Building a Future of Inclusivity
Natalie Bell, from the Forest of Dean, has over eight years’ work experience within construction and is passionate about attracting more women into the industry. According to the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB)*, only 14% of the construction workforce are women with only 2% onsite as trades workers such as electricians or bricklayers.
This year Natalie and her sister Nicola launched a new £3 million industry-led training facility, Accxel, in Cinderford, to improve the training and education for people wanting to work in construction and building links with major employers. The sisters want to increase the number of women joining the industry from directors and engineers to carpenters and electricians. Seetec Pluss, part of the Seetec Group, is currently working with Accxel to develop the female construction leaders of the future.
Natalie explained: “My sister and I were actively discouraged from going into construction, even though we were the third generation of family construction business KW Bell.
“For us, getting women into the industry is a massive step. There are so many opportunities for women in construction, but they don’t necessarily have the access routes. We want to make it more even, learn what are the barriers to entry and take them away.
“With Seetec, we are planning a women-only cohort to start in the next few months as some women may not want to be in a male group. The change needs to start at school, we are bringing school groups to AccXel and plan to roll out a school’s programme.
“We had a school group to visit recently, and we were able to change the minds of some of the girls who were thinking about going into the army to do engineering, they left wanting to do engineering within construction.
“It’s not just about women, it’s about attracting the right people into the right jobs within the industry. We are already facing a skills shortage, there are not enough people coming into the industry to support future growth and around a quarter of the workforce are due to retire in the next five to ten years.
“There are two gaping holes. We need to make construction an aspirational career and create opportunities, we also need to upskill people in the industry to progress into site manager and leadership roles. At AccXel we have launched programmes for new entrants and our Skill STEPS programme to develop those within the industry.”
Seetec Executive Director Justice, Social Care and Skills, Suki Binning said: “These are great examples of the opportunities that are available whatever your gender. Our business is passionate about creating inclusive work cultures where women can thrive in any career they choose, and it is so encouraging to be working with so many businesses that embrace gender equality. However, much more can be done to #BreakTheBias, and it is the responsibility of everyone to make our workplace successful for all.”