‘Traditional’ men’s work is not just for boys

19 Sep 2019 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 19 Sep 2019

Women’stec CEO Lynn Carvill (left) with Mark Nutt and Maria Bradley from Gilbert-Ash
Women’stec CEO Lynn Carvill (left) with Mark Nutt and Maria Bradley from Gilbert-Ash

North Belfast charity Women’stec is tearing down barriers that have kept women from careers like joinery, plumbing and surveying. Scope speaks with CEO Lynn Carvill.


What are ‘non-traditional’ jobs for women?

In modern society the term is jarring. It might seem out of place. However, you’ll know exactly what is meant. Bricklayer, painter and decorator, electrician – all those and more.

This attitude might be outdated, but habits do not change as quickly as ideas, and neither do the pathways that help people, of whatever age, into work.

However, change is underway. Women’stec is a charity based in North Belfast that provides training for women in non-traditional skills, and help women into employment in non-traditional sectors.

It introduces women to basic skills in carpentry, joinery, wall and floor tiling and more; it signposts people to where they can gain appropriate accreditation (such as Belfast Met); and it can help women land work placements with relevant employers.

The mission for Women’stec is not just a question of increasing options, of a heightened sense of liberty, or of the removal of inane barriers simply to remove them. It is, of course, all of that – but it is also about economic empowerment.

Consider a comparison of non-traditional women’s jobs (or traditional men’s jobs) with traditional women’s work (or non-traditional men’s work, another habit that should disappear) and their average annual salaries, per the 2018 NI Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings:

  • Painter and decorator £21,842 – Childcare worker £11,348
  • Plumber £26,052 – Care assistant £15,268
  • Electrician £29,444 – Hairdresser £8,699
  • Construction buyer £32,315 – Sales assistant £10,940

This week the charity launched a new Promoting Opportunities Programme - #notjustforboys – which “aims to increase awareness amongst young females of the wide array of career opportunities available to them in sectors where women are typically underrepresented.”


The programme will give young women the chance to get involved with taster sessions, awareness events, work experience, work placements and apprenticeships, and also provide access to female role models and mentors.

Partners in the scheme include the Housing Executive, Gilbert-Ash, the Construction Industry Training Board NI, JP Corry and also the NI Executive (specifically the Urban Villages and Together: Building a United Community initiatives).

Women’stec CEO Lynn Carvill told Scope that opening up these job sectors to women is not just about opportunities in working life, but in every aspect of their lives.

“When girls are 16 and they are asked, pre GCSE or post GCSE, where they will be working for 40 years of their life, and what is it that will get them out of bed in the morning, what has their interest, then if they have not really thought about it and haven’t had options put before them they will say make up, or beauty, or hair.

“When schools are taken down to Belfast Met, the girls are en masse brought into the beauty and childcare areas, whereas the boys are pushed into construction. We are coming up against cultural barriers and stereotypes which still persist.”

For Ms Carvill, one of the key ways to catch the attention of women who might never have thought about a non-traditional trade, is to explain the economic realities of the salaries in different work.

“The money is how you catch people’s attention. We are targeting schools that attract kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas. They have less resources and we are offering them opportunities that they just don’t have. It’s quite amazing to see – and the teachers are all over it because they want to see the kids doing well.”


As a concept, Women’stec started in 1993 when a group from Windsor Women’s Centre taking part in craft classes decided they wanted to try DIY and found there was nowhere for them to get involved.

It became incorporated in May 1998 and, in 2016, moved into its current premises on Chichester Street which allows them to offer all manner of classes on site.

They also have free on-site childcare - which is hugely important for increasing access.

Ms Carvill has been CEO for over five years and is pleased with how the organisation is currently growing. Most of their work is still targeted within North Belfast, due to geographical ease, but they do have women who travel from much further afield to build skills.

Perhaps their core work is focused on women returners – meaning women who either have never worked or who have been out of work for a considerable period. The charity’s Building Futures scheme is dedicated to this.

Other programmes offered by Women’stec include PASS (Promote, Advance, Support for Success), which offers personal development support for women aged 16-24 who are not in employment, education or training and with a particular focus on young mothers; and PROUD (Promoting Opportunities, Opening Up Diversity) which brings women together from different community and cultural backgrounds and is comprised of trades courses, a personal development course, shared history workshops and cultural diversity workshops.

Women’stec work is centred on building skills, confidence and employability, but it also keeps an eye on broader circumstances.

A proportion of women who use its services will have faced other issues. This can simply be a lack of confidence due to time out of the jobs market, or mean wider troubles in their lives, such as a history of domestic or sexual abuse, or poor mental health.

“Often our work is at the beginning of their journey. While many of them might be thinking of working in construction, or plumbing, just getting involved is very cathartic.

“There is a real sense of achievement in, say, building a table and the women involved can also sit together, have a cup of tea, and if they have faced issues they might find other people with similar problems.”

Finding work

For all those who come to Women’stec to ultimately look for employment, the organisation’s work is not finished when individuals develop their skills.

Women’stec also helps plug people into the jobs market, including getting placements.

“We offer entry level courses accredited by the Open College Network. What we don’t do is replicate things. If people want to do further qualifications and maybe pursue a career, we support them. For instance, we have a great relationship with Belfast Met.

“Beyond that, we are also a broker for placements. We are working with good companies with bright futures and lots of work on their books. When we put out a call for placements we have four or five companies coming back to us straight away.

“When girls are placed the feedback tends to be amazing because they want to be there, and they have overcome so many barriers - even in actually thinking they want to do this - and then to push their way through in a very male-dominated environment. To date, it’s worked out brilliantly.”

#notjustforboys is the next step for an organisation that wants to widen its reach in every sense.

As well as offering a variety of courses tailored to women in different circumstances, it is keen to broaden its reach geographically.

This is great news. Womens’tec is an organisation that does amazing work, and which is a pioneer in its field.

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