The University of Portsmouth course empowering disadvantaged women back into work

HUNDREDS of young unemployed women from disadvantaged backgrounds are being given the digital skills to get back into work.

Monday, 22nd July 2019, 6:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th July 2019, 6:36 pm
PONToon team, Louise Hounsell, 34, Hollie Eve, 32, Harriet Parr, 32, and Dr Joan Farrer, 60. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Teenage mums, women addicted to drink and drugs, or those embroiled in a life of crime are all being helped by a University of Portsmouth scheme.

It comes as the city has the third highest number of unemployed women under 24 in Britain.

The PONToon Project is empowering those between 18-35 and has so far helped 1,600 people - putting them through a course designed to boost their employment prospects and get more women in the technology industry.

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PONToon team, Louise Hounsell, 34, Hollie Eve, 32, Harriet Parr, 32, and Dr Joan Farrer, 60. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Project ambassadors Louise Hounsell, 34, and Hollie Eve, 32, both from Portsmouth,  have turned their lives around and are now employed by the scheme full time.

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Dedicated Louise was faced with a tough life after leaving school at the age of 17 and was battling addiction.

But after enrolling on the project via the Society of St James, where she met Hollie on a computer workshop, Louise attended a week long course in northern France with other women.

Louise Hounsell, 34, credits the project with helping to turn her life round. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Louise added: ‘I was in recovery from addiction and I also left work at the age of 17 to have my eldest child.

‘The week in France helped to turn my life around and I am now so much more confident and less anxious in everything I do.

‘Being in full-time work has really helped my self-worth. I have a huge passion for the project and helping other women to also turn their lives round. There are also employment prospects outside of the project. 

‘I recently applied for another job and have been informed that I have been shortlisted for interview.’ 

A key aim of the PONToon Project is to provide women with the skills for the digital workplace. Picture: Habibur Rahman

A key focus of the project is to equip women with the skills for the digital workplace.

A recent Ipsos Mori report estimated that 23 per cent of the UK’s population lacked basic digital skills with a significantly higher proportion of women identified. 

The 5.8 million Euro project is looking to redress the balance and help ensure the 1,600 women currently enrolled on the project in both southern England and northern France attain sustainable employment.

Digital toolkit will help women in the future

The digital toolkit covered on the course entails the creation of a job speed dating app to direct users to jobs, a recruitment map app highlighting the location of up to date vacancies and an app which helps users to create their own CV. 

Hollie, who developed a virtual reality train app on the course, said: ‘I learnt so much on the course and my confidence grew enormously.

‘I had problems with my self-esteem after suffering from addictions and having a criminal record. 

‘I want other women out there to know that there is life after a criminal conviction and I am living proof that you can get back into work.

Getting to grips with social media

The women on the course took part in virtual reality interviews and learnt how to manage their social media accounts.

Hollie said: ‘When I was in the depths of addiction I didn’t really care what I put on social media. 

‘However it is really important to be aware of the dangers of social media and what you post in terms of the impression it can give to potential employers. 

‘The course teaches you how to manage your account as well as creating a professional profile on LinkedIn.’

The project was the brainchild of Professor Joan Farrer, an associate dean at the university.

Targeting three groups of women 

Prof Farrer said: ‘There are three groups of women who we are targeting with support. 

‘Many young women leave the world of work to be full-time mums and there is also a group who may have been in employment and something has happened to change those circumstances. 

‘There is a final group for whom problems such as addiction or domestic abuse may have resulted in young women becoming disaffected with society.

Helping women into the technology sector

‘Historically the technological sector has been seen as a male dominated zone of employment. PONToon’s main goal is to create a digital toolkit that will help women to develop skills and be better prepared for employment.’

The end goal for Prof Farrer is to develop women’s skills and confidence to gain employment or even set up their own businesses.

Currently at the half-way point in the three and a half year project, only time will tell if it proves to be a success.

Prof Farrer said: ‘We are now at a point where we can start to analyse the difference the project has made to participants lives. Hopefully if it proves to be successful then similar ventures can be rolled out in other parts of the country.’

For Louise and Hollie, they are conclusive proof of the benefits of the initiative.

Looking to the future as ambassadors for the project

For now Hollie and Louise are able to look to the future thanks to the project.

So impressed were the PONToon project organisers that they offered the two women full-time employment as ambassadors for the course. 

Louise and Hollie now spend their time both delivering the course and promoting the scheme to engage other vulnerable women.

Louise said: ‘Being in full-time work has really helped my self-worth. I have a huge passion for the project and helping other women to also turn their lives round. There are also employment prospects outside of the project. 

‘I recently applied for another job and have been informed that I have been shortlisted for interview.’ 

‘We’ve been in a similar situation

Hollie said: ‘We have been in a similar situation to many of these vulnerable women and hopefully they can see that if we are doing really well then they will be inspired to come along and do the same.

‘I learnt so much on the course and my confidence grew enormously.’

Participant coordinator Harriet Parr added: ‘Portsmouth has the third highest number of unemployed women under 24 in the UK and Somers Town is one of the poorest wards in the country. It’s the perfect location to run this scheme to see what difference it can make.’

The PONToon Project will be running its sixth course in the Eldon Building at the University of Portsmouth between August 20 and 22.

Some of the units on offer include cyber security, video making, CV writing and starting your own business.

Any women who would like to attend can do so by registering at pontoonproject.eu/diary