Women in industry: Solving the skills shortage
By Matt Brereton30 December 2022
The skills shortage is a key challenge, writes IPAF’s Matt Brereton, and an initiative to encourage more women to access is seeing positive results.
The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) launched its Women in Powered Access initiative in May.
Inspired by IPAF President Karin Nars, who became the first woman to be elected to the role, the initiative aims to open up opportunities for women; both for those already working in roles in powered access and for those considering joining it.
In her inaugural address to the IPAF Summit, Nars said, “Inclusion is important because it enables people to share different perspectives in a supportive environment.
“Safety is a joint effort to which everybody can and should contribute – we cannot afford to exclude anybody from the conversation surrounding safety.
“While we may work in a male-dominated business, there is more to the story than that. “
Equal opportunities in the access equipment sector
With the Women in Powered Access initiative, women of all ages and different professional roles were invited to share their stories of inclusivity.
Through these stories and role models, Nars seeks to communicate the broad opportunities the industry can offer women.
“We do not want to compare or exclude anyone,” adds Nars. “We are inviting everybody with a passion for our industry, and a passion for safety in powered access, to be heard and to contribute.
“It is all about cooperation and bringing different perspectives to the table – for the good of our industry.”
The response to IPAF’s initiative has been encouraging, says the Federation.
Women from across the industry have reached out to share their stories about what inspires them in their roles, and to impart advice to others seeking to follow in their footsteps.
In this article we hear from women working specifically within training and learn about how their experiences chime with one another, and about the enthusiasm and passion they have for the work.
Career paths in the equipment industry
Adele Coupe is Training Manager at Certora Training, a UK company with centres in locations including Bromsgrove, Chesterfield and Livingston.
She is also currently serving a second term on IPAF’s Training Committee. She was one of the first people to get in touch with IPAF when the Women in Powered Access initiative was launched.
“I recently celebrated 22 years in the industry,” says Coupe. “I got involved in June 2000, working for a Manchester company that was selling IPAF training.
“I moved to Derbyshire in 2002 after meeting my husband – incidentally, we met when I sold him some IPAF training and the rest, as they say, is history!
“Following this relocation, I joined Mentor in 2010 [the company has since rebranded as Certora Training] as a training coordinator, and quickly became access equipment account manager, responsible for expanding IPAF training sales and developing this side of the business.
“I have since become the training manager and part of my role includes arranging standardisation meetings for instructors, measuring the quality performance of our services, and ensuring the business is up to date on industry changes.”
Career progression opportunities
Coupe also invited Emily Bonsall, Certora’s Managing Director, to share her story as part of the initiative. Hers is certainly an inspirational story of a rapid rise from industry entrant to someone in a position of seniority.
“I joined Mentor Training in 2003 as a marketing assistant for a year’s work placement from university,” she recounts.
“As a 20-year-old, I wasn’t even really aware of the industry, let alone considering working in it – I soon realised it had so much to offer.
“In 2005 when I graduated, I returned to Mentor as a marketing coordinator. I have been lucky enough to work in an organisation that allows individuals to grow and develop with no limits on their aspirations, regardless of their gender, hence my role today!
“Working in all departments and gaining experience directly associated to training delivery, course creation, developing standards and the associated marketing – I can honestly say that I have never been bored!”
The sheer variety of the work in powered access is a theme that many women have mentioned.
Skill variety and development
As Debbie Lewis, an IPAF Independent Instructor, comments, “This is a very rewarding job and there are lots of opportunities to gain new skills and pass this knowledge on to your training delegates. Every day is different – no two days are the same!”
Lewis’s sentiments are echoed nearly word-for-word by Kate Bell, Head of UK Training for Nationwide Platforms, part of the Loxam Group.
“What I love about this industry are the hard-working people that you meet and the challenges we face – no two days are ever the same,” says Bell.
“I get to play a part in assisting our customers from personal and professional development through to fulfilment and completion of a project – with safety being paramount, so everyone goes home safe to their families and loved ones at the end of each day.
“The customers we work with are fantastic, really safety-conscientious owing to their high-risk working environments. This creates agile and innovative thinking, which in turn inspires me.”
Careers with high levels of job satisfaction
This focus on safety being the key driver of a passion for quality training is another recurring theme.
All those we spoke to in training roles are acutely aware that the end goal is to raise the bar on safety.
Coupe says, “I try to make a real impact with my work and help others. I’ve been an ambassador for training for a long time, coupled with a passion for safety in the industry.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with inspirational people at Certora Training, who continue to encourage and support me to achieve my goals.
“I hope to continue to make a difference and contribute towards helping people get home safely after working at height,” she adds, in an echo of Bell’s words.
Similarly Bonsall said that being a part of people’s personal growth journeys and seeing them “develop their skills, knowledge and behaviours and creating an environment where they can be successful”, is also highly rewarding.
She says, “Whether they be learners attending one of our training courses, instructors and assessors delivering training, or members of my team... I am inspired when I see how our services and the industries that we operate in have such a positive impact on the capabilities and safety of others.”
Lewis also finds fulfilment in helping people overcome their fears to boost their skills and confidence.
“I try my best each day to give my training delegates confidence through gaining a qualification that helps them in their workplace,” Lewis says.
“I also enjoy helping them overcome their fear of heights and try to make the day as enjoyable as possible for them.”
Encouraging women in the equipment industry
When it comes to offering a few sage words of advice to other women in the industry or those plotting a new career path, all are full of encouragement for those who would follow in their footsteps.
Bell says, “If you are thinking about joining the industry and are looking for a diverse, challenging and rewarding career, just do it.
“For those who are already within the industry and are wanting to progress their career further – set yourself some goals, and arrange a structured feedback session with your line manager.
“Don’t be afraid to ask what you need to do to progress those goals; self-awareness and the willingness to evolve is key.
Bell adds, “Above all, always be yourself, stay focused and be inspired! Gender should not determine your success, only you can do that!”
Likewise, Bonsall is keen to convey her enthusiasm to potential new entrants into the world of powered access.
“Get involved – it is a great industry to work in and one I can honestly say I’ve never struggled in, regardless of the demographic split.”
Lewis and Coupe are also resounding in their advice to not let the perceived gender imbalance put women off.
“If you have good communication skills and enjoy meeting lots of different people, this is an excellent career choice.”
For more information please see: www.ipaf.org/en/ipafs-women-powered-access-initiative