Female team wins Big Red Challenge

The winning team
The winning team

A team of seven young women from the College of North West London has been announced as the winner of this year’s Big Rig Challenge, a competition set on a two storey temporary structure. Ten teams from colleges across London and the South East took part in two weeks of heats, before the finals, which saw the College of North West London team take on a team from Uxbridge College.

During the day long final, the two teams had to install a ‘solar salon’. Using skills in renewable energy, plumbing, carpentry and electrics, the teams turned the scaffolding rig into a pop-up salon complete with hot water for a hair wash at the end of the day and the ability to use rainwater to feed a shower and toilet.

Siobhan O’Connor, 27, from Harrow, is studying building services engineering at the College. She said: “It was a challenging task but we were able to use our knowledge from class and some great teamwork to get the job done.” The team included twin sisters Sharine and Shaneal Johnson, 16, from Edgware Road, who both started their construction courses in January. Sharine said: “I’ve always liked trying new things out and the construction course is great for this. I’m really enjoying it.”

The team’s result certainly shows that women are just as able to succeed in the traditionally male dominated industries. Indeed, the team defeated some all male teams of apprentices in the heats of the Challenge. As team member Oretha Richards, 32, from Muswell Hill, who is studying plumbing at the College added: “I think there’s a niche for women in the industry. There are lots of women who live alone for example who don’t want men working in their house. This is where qualified women from construction and engineering industries can help. Competing in the Big Rig Challenge has really helped us all to develop our skills and get on-site experience.”

These young women though are not the only ones making their mark in these industries at the College. Sandra Cato, from Hammersmith, is one of a number of female bricklaying students and agrees that the construction industry offers opportunities. She says: “Before I started at the College of North West London I was working different jobs that didn’t give me the stability I was after. I would always see jobs in the construction industry being advertised and I realised that I wanted a job that was different and that construction could be for me. Now I’m really enjoying my bricklaying course and know that the construction industry is definitely where I want to be. There’s a job market out there for me.”

Fellow College of North West London student Asaki Kan, 35, from Paddington, is also enjoying learning in what is traditionally a male industry. She is currently studying engineering, having previously also studied welding at the College. For Asaki, studying these skills will help her in her career, although it may not be the one you would expect. As Asaki explains: “My background is in art installations and I wanted to gain new skills that would help me with this. The skills I am learning at College will help me when I am doing sculptures in the future.”

Robert Mather, who supervised the challenge, said: “There is no reason why these industries should be male dominated so it’s great to see young women deciding to break with tradition and make their mark in construction and engineering. There are countless career opportunities for men and women in these industries so everyone should be open to looking at them when considering their career paths.”