When Dara Howlett took part in a WorldSkills Competition last year, she realised that what she really wanted to do was work with wood.
The cabinetmaker from Ireland selected her skill because of the sense of accomplishment she gets from transforming ideas into reality, and her determination to follow a design path that deviates from existing perceptions.
“I chose the cabinetmaking skill because I like woodwork and have never been the sort of person who decides not to do something just because it isn’t considered the norm,” she explained. “It really didn’t cross my mind that I shouldn’t try it just because I’m a girl. And it was like nothing I’d ever done before. It gave me a sense of where I would like to see myself, and has made me push myself to a point I never thought I’d reach.”
The allure of cabinetmaking for Dara is its outlet for expression. “So many people do things they don’t particularly like to make a living,” she said. “I’m lucky to be doing something I love.”
Member organizations of WorldSkills have been voicing their commitment to the equality agenda, throughout International Women’s Day. Forty six Members, from across the globe, have stated their support for the UN Women campaign HeForShe. This follows the endorsement of HeForShe at the WorldSkills General Assembly in Niagara Falls last year.
“One of the challenges, is that there are not enough women in skills, trades and technologies”, said the CEO of WorldSkills, David Hoey. “I can assure you that it is one of the best career opportunities. So to all women, please have a look, consider a career, and you will be amazed at the opportunities.”
Over the past week WorldSkills has published profiles with some of the most accomplished young women to compete in skills competitions at the international, regional, and national level. All their stories are inspiring in different ways.
A love of cars outstripped life in the classroom for Rebecca Wilson, who pursued one of the most stereotypically male-dominated jobs imaginable – and found that gender is irrelevant.
Rebecca, from Northern Ireland, helped her father fix cars from a young age, and as she says, “We had race-cars at home, so it was only natural I went into the motor trade – when I left school at 16, I began an Advanced Apprenticeship in Vehicle Refinishing, as I preferred to be outside doing something.”
Her learning provider, Riverpark Training, introduced her to skills competitions, and after narrowly missing out on WorldSkills Leipzig 2013, her persistence paid off when she secured a Team UK place for WorldSkills São Paulo 2015, competing in Car Painting against 19 rivals – and surpassing her expectations by winning bronze.
The can-do mindset of National Skills champion Shan-Shin is an example to others – as she teaches them how positivity leads to potential being realized.
Shan-Shin participated in Chinese Taipei’s National Skills Competition in 1997 and emerged with a Medallion for Excellence in Painting. Now she works as the Director of Student Affairs at an industrial high school in her home country, where she is keen to emphasize to female students that qualities associated with their gender, make them perfectly-equipped to succeed in the world of work.
Her successful competition experience, however, demonstrated how women can also defy stereotypes that may lead some people to question their capabilities in demanding roles. “Physical strength was the biggest test – the painting schedule covered 22 hours over three days,” she said. “But I secured a good result on behalf of my country.”
That country, she says, is one where gender equality is “deeply rooted” and the concept of traditional ‘male’ careers in Chinese Taipei is slowly dissolving. “There are women at my school who are teaching in the automotive, mechanical, and electrical sectors, for example,” she explained. “I am pleased to be able to pass on my knowledge and help students to learn a skill.”
An African proverb sums up Albertina Shitalangaho’s outlook on the importance of women being provided with the same opportunities to learn, work, and contribute as men, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a family”.
For “family”, she says, read “nation”. And in her own nation of Namibia, she is practicing what she believes in, with her recognition of the value of vocational education seeing her embark on an internship in plumbing and heating – she was the only female Competitor in Plumbing and Heating at the Namibian National Skills Competition last year.
“It encouraged me to show the world that women are equally capable, and break the stereotype that claims only men can do certain trades,” she said. “Women are underestimated in some trades, but I feel I proved that we can also deliver quality work.