On International Women’s Day Penwith College Celebrates Diversity in Construction Trades

This has been a year like no other and in the Gwenvor building at Penwith College, home to the College’s Construction and Automotive Engineering departments, there are changes afoot.

For the first year in the College’s history there are now female students studying across all trade disciplines – Bricklaying, Painting and Decorating and Carpentry and Joinery as well as in Automotive Engineering.  Steve Piff is the programme leader for the Construction and Automotive trades at Penwith College and says that perceptions of working in the construction and engineering trades are developing fast. “In today’s industry all trades are totally accessible,” he said.

“The construction industry isn’t all about working on site on new build projects from the ground up. There are plenty of opportunities for skilled tradespeople that enjoy a creative and artistic approach, or one of many related trades such as architecture, surveying and project management. For the last three years we have had students from our area go on to university to study architecture for example, which demonstrates the potential to progress to university as well as onto employment.”

One of the new female students is Kiah-Jade, a carpentry student from Madron. “I was looking for a hands-on creative course,” she said. “I tried carpentry when I came to Penwith College on a taster day and decided there and then that it was for me. I feel that by my being here I am changing the stereotype of male and female careers. In class though I am just the same as everyone else. We all have our individual projects and work at different speeds. I hope to have a bespoke carpentry business eventually bringing together my creativity with my technical carpentry skills.”

Kiah-Jade’s experienced tutor Andy Walker said he has seen first-hand the gradual shift in the perceptions of who trade industry skills are for. He said: “I have taught bench joinery for over 25 years and have seen a shift in applicants from more diverse backgrounds in this time. As one of the more artisan trades there is a lot of opportunity for creativity in designing bespoke timber products which appeals to a broader mix of student.”

Robyn is a Painting and Decorating student from Mousehole and says she chose that option as it helps to create skills that could last a lifetime. “I chose painting and decorating as it is a practical course that could lead on to an apprenticeship,” she said. “The course is fun as well as learning practical and useful skills. This year is all about the basics but next year I hope to be more creative as I enjoy interior design. We all get along, girls and boys; there’s no difference between us really. In our class there are more girls than boys.”

Robyn’s tutor Andie Bishop added: “I think it is fantastic to achieve more diversity in the industry. In domestic Painting and Decorating there is definitely a niche for non-male tradespeople, with some members of the community preferring a female working in their home, especially those who feel more vulnerable.”

Newlyn’s Tamsin is a bricklaying student and says she definitely feels part of the team. She said: “I have always been interested in buildings and design and this seemed like the perfect place to start. I feel part of the team here. No one treats me any different because I am the only girl in this group – not the teachers nor the other students. We just all work together.”

Her tutor Wayne Sheppard said: “Tamsin is an exceptional student. She has excellent attention to detail and works really hard. If she continues at her current level she will achieve very highly.”

The Midas Group is one of the largest construction companies in the South West and has a long-standing relationship with Truro and Penwith College. Midas Construction is currently completing a specialist technology facility, called the Valency Building, and is about to begin work on a new STEM and Health Skills Centre on behalf of the college. The Group is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment where all its people maximise their potential and is always looking to encourage more women into a career within the sector.

Alice Rumbelow has been working at Midas Construction for almost five years. She joined as a Trainee Quantity Surveyor for a one year work experience placement as part of her university degree and has been with the company ever since. She was recently promoted to the role of Quantity Surveyor. Alice said: “I am the fourth generation in my family who has gone on to be a Quantity Surveyor, but the first woman to do so. I worked for my dad’s company as a teenager and that really fuelled my interest in construction. Many people consider construction to be a male-dominated industry but, in my experience, men and women are offered the same level of respect and it is an equal playing field. Women can offer a different perspective on things, and the more perspectives you have on a construction project the better. I have a fantastic support network at Midas and have worked with both male and female colleagues who have supported me and encouraged me to succeed. Everyone has an equal opportunity here and if you put in the time and the effort, you will see the reward.”

Lucy Maggs, Operations Director at Penwith College, is delighted that more and more females are choosing trade and construction skills for their course choices and that the trend reflects the College’s constant focus on equality and diversity. “Equality and Diversity is embedded into everything we do at the College from recruitment to teaching,” she said. “We feel that it is very important that each and every student in the College has access to the education they need to fulfil their potential through either an academic or vocational course of study and we do our very best to facilitate this.”

To discover more about trade courses at Penwith College, starting in September 2021, please visit the College website at Construction (truro-penwith.ac.uk) or call the Penwith College admission team on 01736 809000.