23rd Mar 2015

Mum’s battle inspires Shelby’s campaign to attract more women into construction

A woman from Salford says that years of watching her mum battling against stigma and ridicule to establish a career in the construction industry has inspired her to take on an apprenticeship as a painter and decorator.

Shelby Knight, who is an apprentice with builder and developer Seddon, is urging more young females to follow their dreams and take up careers within the sector, after women like her mum, Racheal, 38, campaigned against sexism to make opportunities possible.

The 19-year-old said: "It sounds shocking today, but my mum was refused training and work as a painter and decorator – it was seen as a man’s job back then, and women rarely worked on-site.

"Thankfully, things couldn’t be more different now, but many young women still don’t think careers in construction are available to them.

"I want them to know that, thanks to women like my mum, it’s a great industry to work in, and there are thousands of construction apprenticeships available nationwide. There are lots of chances for people to follow their dreams.”

Shelby’s mother, Racheal Knight, now carries out painting and decorating jobs for friends and family, and hopes to set up her own business in the future.

The mum-of-four first tried to get a job in construction at 16, but was "laughed out of the room” by careers advisers who told her she should apply for roles in health and social care instead, as it was a more fitting industry for a woman to work in.

She said: "Shelby has the career I have always wanted and dreamed of, and I think that has spurred her on to get her apprenticeship and work hard.

"It was a different time back then and I had to fight to get where I am today, so it is heart-breaking that thousands of young women are throwing these job opportunities away.”

Shelby is now in the third year of her apprenticeship with Seddon and hopes to become a site manager in the future.
She is one of 57 apprentices employed by the company, which has taken on apprentices for the last 80 years.

Every year the company receives around 800 applications for its apprenticeship programme – last year around 10 per cent of those applications were from women.

Nicola Hodkinson, Business Services Director at Seddon, said: "The industry has come a long way in the last 20 years and we are seeing the numbers of women applicants picking up, but not as quickly as we would like them to.

"We want to send the message that the gates are open, construction companies want to employ more women like Shelby. Her mum Racheal battled to be taken seriously when she said she wanted a career in construction – don’t let her hard work go to waste.

"As a country we are building more than we ever have before, careers in construction offer excellent chances for progression and apprenticeships teach you skills for life.” 

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of women working in construction has risen from 11.7% in 1999 to 13.4% in 2014 – while the number of female manual workers on site has only gone up by 0.1% in that time frame.

Shelby added: "People have this perception of construction as a low-pay, grubby and male industry – but the truth is completely the opposite.

"It’s such a creative industry and there is an incredible variety of careers available for people of all walks of life.

"I love working as part of a team, getting out and about on different sites and, most importantly, being able to walk into a room with my tools and make something great out of it. If that sounds like something you are up for – male or female – then construction is the industry for you, and getting an apprenticeship is the best way to start.”

As part of her apprenticeship she will complete three and a half years of training with Seddon, which has offices across the UK.

She said her experiences of construction couldn’t be any further from those her mum experienced 22 years ago: "I’ve been welcomed with open arms onto both my college course and my apprenticeship – and also received a great deal of support from the tutors, the Seddon site managers and everyone I work with to help me do the best in my job.”

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