From education to employment

Students could become UK’s first all-female bricklaying gang

Building up a career – bricklaying students at Middlesbrough College (from left) Lily Collins, Georgia Biswas and Jessica Costello.

A GROUP of students at Middlesbrough College could become the UK’s first all-female bricklaying gang as they build up their careers in the construction sector.

The College’s Level One Bricklaying Diploma course currently has six female students on its books looking to make their way in what is still a male-dominated profession.

If all six make it through to becoming fully qualified bricklayers, they could end up being the first all-female bricklaying gang in the country – an estimated 99% of the UK’s on-site construction workers are male.

The group includes 17-year-old Lily Collins from Brotton, 18-year-old Georgia Biswas from Hemlington and 18-year-old Jessica Costello from Redcar.

Lily enrolled on the course in September 2022 after transferring from another programme of study.

She explained: “I had heard about the course from other friends and I thought it sounded like something I would enjoy and so far, that’s definitely been the case.”

Georgia and Jessica are following in something of a family tradition with their places on the course.

Georgia said: “Some of the people in my family are bricklayers so I thought I would like to try it as well and I’m enjoying it so far.”

Jessica added: “My granddad was a labourer so I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“It’s been really enjoyable so far – we have got really good friendships on the course and you meet lots of different people.”

All three say they have been backed by friends and family in pursuing their studies on the course and all are keen to make it as full-time bricklayers.

Jessica said: “Friends and family have been very supportive and very proud of me.”

Georgia added: “My family have certainly backed me, although my mum thought I couldn’t do it but I’ve showed her than I can!”

Lily said: “My dad didn’t think I could do it as I would be out in the cold weather but I’m doing fine so far!”

The students and their fellow course members were recently put through their paces and given encouragement in their career paths by Michael Johnson, regional apprenticeship manager for Persimmon Homes North East, Teesside and Durham.

Michael noted that women are still underrepresented in the construction industry, particularly in bricklaying, however there is genuine progress being made across the industry with female representation steadily rising.

He added: “Here at Persimmon we have just launched our Women’s Network, which aims to foster a positive space for our colleagues to share ideas and offer support across the whole business.

“We are proud our number of female apprentices and trainees is three times above the industry average, but we can’t stop there. Last year we launched our Target 50 initiative to hire a further 50 female apprentices or trainees in construction facing roles, as we prioritise the diversification and training of our workforce.”

He explained: “The idea that bricklaying is somehow a male-only profession is long gone.

“We have got a female bricklaying apprentice at the moment and she has just won Apprentice of the Year, showing the profession truly is open to everyone.”

Persimmon Homes has been working with Middlesbrough College for the past two years, providing work placements for students and helping to open up pathways to all professions within the construction sector.

The company also takes on apprentices every year as it builds up the skilled professionals it can call upon to help construct its houses.

While Michael admits there is still “a lot of work to be done” to attract more female recruits into the construction sector, the role played by institutions like Middlesbrough College is crucial.

He said: “Middlesbrough College have an excellent careers advice centre and have done a lot of promotion to get female learners into the college and interested in careers in construction.

“Without that kind of work, a lot of people don’t know about a career in construction and so don’t see it as an option.

“We’re really big on promoting careers in the industry and bringing through the next generation of professionals so work like this from the College is so important.”

Mike Emery, head of construction at Middlesbrough College, said: “It is terrific that Lily, Georgia, Jessica and our other female bricklaying students are approaching the course with such enthusiasm and have already shown considerable ability.

“At the College, we are firm believers that there are no ‘male’ or ‘female’ professions and that opportunity should be open to all.

“We wish them and everyone on the course well and we’ll ensure they are supported throughout their studies and beyond.”

More than 700 students are currently enrolled on construction courses at Middlesbrough College with studies ranging from Entry Level to Level 5 (Higher National Diploma).

In addition to bricklaying, the courses offered include Building Services Engineering, Plumbing and Heating Engineering, Civil Engineering, Surveying and Design, Carpentry & Joinery and Electrical Installation.

Related Articles