Two female construction students who can do everything from fixing boilers to sculpting furniture hope to inspire more women into an industry traditionally dominated by men.

Jodie Allen and Katarzyna Cifci have gained apprenticeship roles with house-building firm St Modwen Homes.

The pair, who are studying HNCs at Burton and South Derbyshire college, were given the opportunity to be interviewed for the positions after winning the college's Student of the Year competition.

Run in partnership with St Modwen, it was designed to find the construction industry's rising stars.

They have spoken to the Burton Mail about wearing pink overalls, the skills they bring to the industry and why their gender has - and will - never hold them back.

The girls both learned their trade at Burton and South Derbyshire College

Jodie, 22, who previously studied carpentry and joinery, dreamed of being a ballerina as a child and grew up with two sisters who are both hairdressers.

She said: "It sort of happened by accident. I wanted to be a ballerina as a little girl and my sisters are both hairdressers so it was a bit of a shock for my family.

"At school everyone pushes you towards university and I knew that I didn't want to go down that path - I wanted to be part of a trade and have a practical skill.

"I preferred the art and design take on things and like being more crafty.

"I started as a carpenter and did that for three years. I worked for a cabinet making firm where the boss was a woman; she took me on, having faced the same obstacles as me.

"I loved the variety of it and creating bespoke items, once I helped make a life-size wolf hound out of oak.

"It was something I kind of fell into and when I started on the course I was the only girl.

Two local girls get taken on as apprentices in the construction industry in Swadlincote.
Pictured: Jodie Allen
Jodie Allen dreamed of being a ballerina as a child but is now a successful carpenter

"I never thought about the gender thing and I used to wear a pink jumpsuit and pink overalls.

"The lads were always really helpful and I have never had any issues with a gender divide so people should not worry about that, if that is what is putting them off getting into the industry."

The former Paget School pupil, who lives in Branston, said she felt more of a want to "prove herself" in the male dominated industry and has really enjoyed her time studying construction.

She said: "You have got to be able to prove yourself and deal with banter and you have got to be brave but I made great friends and my tutors were so supportive.

"It was a great environment to be in. The work was theory and practical because the pair work hand in hand and at the moment I do one day of college and four days of work."

Jodie said "more women need to show an interest in the craft for it to become the norm" and believes the biggest hurdle is changing employers' perceptions.

She said: "There are so many opportunities coming through construction so I would definitely recommend giving it a go.

"I never thought this opportunity would be available; we won an award, got head-hunted and ended up getting hired by a multi-million pound company. It just shows how much room there is for diversity and growth.

The construction students have both been awarded prestigious apprenticeship jobs with St Modwen homes

"The biggest struggle is that employers don't trust that we can do the same things as men and I think they don't believe we have the same power.

"Employers should be open because it is a change, but it is not going to happen overnight.

"I think the important thing is that we are not trying to be better than the males. We just bring a different skill-set and work as a team so that everyone is valued.

"I think that the more women that show an interest and train in construction, the more likely it will become the everyday norm."

Now Jodie is enjoying six months of training at St Modwen Homes.

She said: "I am really enjoying the role and it is a great opportunity to find out how the business works and to gain experience in site management quantity surveying and technical management.

"I want to go on to study a degree once I have completed my HNC and I am excited to see where my career will take me.

"My advice to other women looking to enter the construction industry would be to go for it.

"Companies in the industry are always promoting diversity these days so there is nothing stopping you."

The pair are enjoying their apprenticeships and are though to have "bright careers in construction"

Meanwhile, Katarzyna first came to the UK from Poland in 2009 and undertook an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course at Burton and South Derbyshire College to develop her English skills.

After being inspired by her brother to pursue a career in electrical engineering, the mother-of-two never looked back and can even fix her own boiler.

The 27-year-old, of Burton, said: "There were only males in my family and they mainly came from an engineering background so I was never interested in fashion or hairdressing.

"My brother convinced me to join electrical engineering and the idea was kind of spontaneous. I saw the opportunity and went for it and it was the best decision of my life."

Katarzyna said the different genders bring different approaches and qualities to the roles and "it is a chance for women to make their mark in construction".

She said: "I have always thought of it as an advantage because it is different and I felt like I had more to prove.

"I thought to myself if they can do it I can do it and when I achieved a high level I felt so proud.

"I do think that women have different values to add, and can be more precise when it comes to things like carpentry.

"There will always be areas where women are better but overall it is about what you can bring not your gender.

"I know from experience that it can be tough to get jobs in anything mechanical or electrical if you are a woman but I also think employers are more curious if you are female.

Katarzyna Cifci juggles motherhood with electrical engineering

"I was hired because I am organised and I made a good impression and I am really enjoying being an apprentice at St Modwen Homes.

"The people I work with respect me as I respect them. As a woman from another country working in the construction industry. I have shown that I can do anything; nothing can stop me."

Chris Prosser, 32, Bromsgrove, is the managing quantity surveyor at St Modwen homes.

He said the company was proud to welcome Jodie and Katarzyna into the fold as they were the best candidates for the job.

He said: "We are quite a diverse company which includes welcoming females into construction.

"Jodie and Katarzyna really stood out with their determination, drive and focus and they were both really passionate about construction.

"We have given them the opportunity to work in three disciplines - commercial quantity surveying, site managers and technical.

"They both have a bright career ahead of them in the construction industry."

Geraint Davies, deputy director of curriculum, construction and engineering skills at Burton and South Derbyshire College, said: "We are delighted to see two of our students being offered roles at St. Modwen Homes.

"The college is proud of our partnerships with industry and giving students unique access to work experience and employment opportunities with leading names in industry.

"Our courses not only help students develop the skills they will need in their chosen area, but also provide them with the job-ready attributes that employers are looking for.

"It is also refreshing to see an increase in the number of females pursuing a career in the engineering and construction industry.

"It is important to redress the balance in what has traditionally been a male dominated environment and we are always encouraging girls who are interested in construction and engineering to pursue their goals."

More women enrolled on engineering, computer science and maths higher education courses last year

One in four students enrolled on engineering, computer science and maths higher education courses in 2016/17 were women, new figures show.

Men taking subjects in computer science, engineering and technology and mathematical sciences outnumbered women at 247,375 to 62,680 in the last full academic year, according to a Press Association analysis of the latest data, published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).

And there has been little growth in take-up of science courses over five years, with the number of women enrolling in those subject areas at all levels of higher education rising from 24.4 per cent in 2012/13 to 25.3 per cent in 2016/17.

The Government has focused efforts on encouraging women and girls at schools and colleges to take science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects and there have long been calls for greater equality in the science and technology industries.

The number of women opting to take subjects from across those three topic areas as their first degree increased modestly from 23.5 per cent in 2012/13 to 23.7 per cent in the last academic year - a rise of 4,970 women in real terms.

Did you know?

Construction is a major pillar of the UK's economy, employing around 2.1 million people.

But women make up just 11 per cent of this industry and are paid 12 per cent less, on average, than men carrying out the same role.

By 2024 there will be 230,000 more construction jobs in the UK.

There are currently more than two million construction jobs in the UK.

The average UK salary for a role in construction is £30,000.

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Useful qualifications for a career in construction

You can get into and progress in the construction industry in a variety of ways and with a variety of entry qualifications, which may depend on your age and experience.

Your qualifications may have been gained at school or in a previous job.

Personal skills and qualities are also important such as good communication skills, teamwork and time management.

For many construction jobs you will be able to show your skills and gain or extend your qualifications while working in the industry. Here are some useful qualifications for you to consider.


An apprenticeship combines off-the-job learning with on-site experience. It allows you to learn the skills for your role while working toward the right qualifications.

Apprenticeships are highly valued by employers. You need to be in full-time employment with a construction company to be able to complete an apprenticeship, meaning you are earning as you learn.

Apprenticeships are offered at craft, technical and higher levels meaning that you can continue to progress your career if you wish.

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National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs)

These types qualifications show that you have the skills to do the job in line with National Occupational Standards, and are gained while you work. They often, but not always, form part of an apprenticeship and run from level one, covering basic work skills, up to senior management levels.

They are assessed in several ways and you may be asked to show a portfolio of work or be observed at work by an assessor.

Experienced workers who don’t have NVQs or SVQs and are returning to the industry after a long break can demonstrate their abilities through either an on-site assessment workshop or the experienced worker practical assessment.

Higher National Certificates (HNCs), Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Degrees

These qualifications can be studied full-time at university or part time while you are in a construction related role.

They can form part of a Higher or Degree Apprenticeship in England; Wales and Scotland have similar qualifications.

Non-Construction Degrees

If you already have a degree which is not directly related to the construction industry you may need to take a construction conversion course and gain work experience but some areas of the business may not require you to do this.

Construction companies often need people with marketing or business development degrees for example or IT/digital experts.

Industry skill certification / competency cards

If you want to show that you are skilled in a certain occupation in construction, then these card schemes prove that you have the right skills and training.

The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) is the most well-known of these, but others are available.

There are several types of CSCS cards and the one that you apply for depends on the work you will be doing and the NVQs or SVQs that you hold.

The Construction Plant Competence Scheme is an example of a card scheme for a specific occupation.

There are two ways of getting a CSCS card. You can apply directly at by following the steps and paying a small fee, or your employer may be able to take care of this for you.

If you have qualifications apart from NVQs or SVQs and can’t get a CSCS card, the SKILLcard or SCORE card can be a good alternative.

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Health, safety and environment test

Before you can apply for a CSCS card, SKILLcard or SCORE card you’ll need to have passed a health,safety and environment test in the past two years.

This makes sure you know how to stay safe on site while keeping others safe.

There are four types of test, including operative, labourer, specialist, and managers and professionals.

The one you take depends on the type of job you’ll be doing and the CSCS card you’re applying for.