Over 130 people from industry and education gathered at Leeds College of Building to welcome WISE – a not-for-profit membership organisation that campaigns to increasing gender balance in science, technology and engineering in the UK - to its new office within the College.
The organisation’s Royal Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, unveiled a commemorative plaque and addressed the guests, who included representatives from major firms like Balfour Beatty, BAM Nuttall, Jacobs Engineering, Mott Macdonald, Rolls-Royce PLC and Sky as well as representatives from the Universities, the new University Technical College and Leeds City Council Leader Judith Blake.
The Princess Royal commented on the need to improve links between schools and employers to give girls better information about the opportunities on their doorstep to find their niche in science, technology, engineering or construction.
Ian Billyard, Principal of Leeds College of Building and President of the Yorkshire Federation of Builders, said: “As the UK’s only specialist building and construction college, we are delighted to celebrate our partnership with WISE at this official opening.
“Welcoming WISE to our brand new Hunslet campus is just one of the demonstrable ways in which we are championing the role of women in construction, engineering and the built environment. With higher level engineering and building services apprenticeships available, there has never been a better opportunity to join the industry. I would urge young women in Leeds and the region as a whole to take a serious look at the fantastic career opportunities available.”
Helen Wollaston, WISE Chief Executive, called on schools, colleges, employers and business leaders to play their part. She said: “By turning away from maths, physics and computing, girls rule themselves out of a whole range of jobs where they could do really well. WISE provides resources to show girls and their families the kind of jobs which would suit them. Most girls are never told about these opportunities, or told construction and engineering is not for them. In this day and age that simply isn’t true. We don’t want girls to lose out and we can’t afford to let local industry lose out either by missing half of their potential talent pool.”
WISE shared solutions for schools and for employers and guest speaker Beth West, Commercial Director of High Speed Two, explained why they are looking for people from all backgrounds to deliver HS2 in the region. Guests also heard from a panel of students, apprentices and women working in construction, which was chaired by two members of the WISE Young Women’s Board, Kathryn Grant of British Sugar and Stephanie Newman of Rolls-Royce PLC.
According to the Leeds Enterprise Partnership, construction, which currently represents 5% of the region’s workforce, is expected to grow by 11% in the next 10 years, generating a total of 42,000 job opportunities for local people. Ian adds: “Our college is training the next generation of people to meet this need and today has been a very successful event that will no doubt raise the profile of the host of opportunities there are available to women in construction, engineering and the built environment.”