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Dry lining is a job for the girls

A SME contractor is hoping to attract teenage girl apprentices to its £1 million institute in south London. By Lucy Handley

An industrial estate off the insalubrious Wandsworth Road in south-west London is home to a Foster and Partners office, maintenance firm Tube Lines and an apprentice training centre in which is hoping to emulate Honda-style training – and attract teenage girls to the construction industry.

This is where dry lining contractor Astins has set up its £1 million Astins Institute in the hope of finding for 10 girls to start a female-only apprenticeship.

“There has just been this attitude that it is jobs for the boys not for women,” says marketing manager Rebecca Caroe. “The land girls for example - Waterloo Bridge was largely built by female labour. The capability is there, the question is whether we can harness it and change the underlying prejudices.

“It’s all too easy to stand out like a sore thumb, first if you are a suit on a site and second if you are a woman in a suit on a site,” she says, adding that things have improved over the years.

Institute leader Alan Keating says that partly what holds girls back from applying is not knowing what the job is. “It’s one of those trades where no one understands what it is, everyone sees a finished wall or a big open space they don’t see the bit in between. But it’s not as difficult or as physical.”

He adds: “Their attention to detail and their creativity it just brings another level to it. It needs to happen.”

And this attention to detail is something which managing director Dominic Tutt is very keen on. “It’s pretty often viewed as a semi-skilled profession but actually there are at least 115 things that you can build wrong, so you can measure it,” he says. So it seems the institute will almost pay for itself through producing defect-free work.

The institute will take on four lots of 10 apprentices a year and ideally one of the groups will be all-female. So far three have been offered a place. Mr Tutt says: “It’s also about driving image of construction up, making people feel that it’s a place they want to work. That is why we are more confident that we can get some women in, this facility is high class.”

Women by numbers

  • Women make up 12 per cent of the construction workforce
  • Crafts and tradespeople are made up of 1 per cent females
  • 13 per cent of design and management professionals are women
  • 88 per cent of people in secretarial roles in the industry are women
  • 3 per cent of sole traders are women

How the boys think we can attract the girls

Albert Ajani and Kevin Velez, both 18, started an apprenticeship in dry lining 10 weeks ago.

Albert says: “They showed us the two year plan and I thought it would be the best option. With a lot of apprenticeships once you’ve done it that’s it. But here, once you have qualified you have a job, something to look forward to after you’ve finished.”

Kevin switched from music technology because he knew he could be a manager within five years. He says: “Some girls would like to do this but it’s hard to persuade them to. I think you should tell them the good things. There are some hard things but there is always a way to overcome them. They might not be as strong as us but you work in groups of two so there is always someone there to help.”

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