Annually on 8 March thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements as part of International Women's Day. The activities are rich and varied and connect women all around the world. This year's events will include political rallies, business conferences, and networking events through to local women's craft markets, theatre performances, fashion shows and more.
Since International Women's Day was first celebrated at the beginning of the last century it has grown to include businesses, communities, political parties and pressure groups as well as education providers. The world of further education (FE) is no exception in that it truly supports this important calendar date, and the vision that is behind it. This includes a call to action to do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.
This vision can look very different in various areas of the globe, but here in the UK the 8 March is a great opportunity to reflect on some of the great female role models that we have in sectors as varied as business, the arts, politics and sport. Whilst we might all know Jessica Ennis and Martha Lane Fox there are many other women who encapsulate and celebrate what it means to be female in 2013.
In fact one of the most rewarding parts of my job is hearing first-hand inspiring stories from learners of all ages that have benefitted from FE. I especially relate to the many girls and women who tell me how they have progressed in work and in life, thanks to the FE and skills courses and qualifications they have undertaken. These stories are backed up by recent research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that showed the significant economic benefits associated with undertaking learning and training: more than a quarter (29%) of female learners indicated they had got a better job and 12% said they had received a promotion.
I also hear from a number of self-employed workers, who have used their newfound skills and confidence to strike out on their own, making a vital contribution to our economy both locally, but also nationally. According to the Office for National Statistics the numbers of self-employed people has risen by 367,000 in the last four years, mostly since 2011, with women accounting for 80% of the rise between 2008 and 2011.
One of these entrepreneurs is Debbie Jones. Debbie worked for Woolworths for over 30 years, but lost her job when the national retailer ceased to trade. Debbie decided to view this enforced change as an opportunity, returning to college to study for a plumbing qualification before setting up her own business. Her company - The Plumbher - is thriving and whilst the experience has been challenging Debbie herself reflected that whilst she may have questioned her own capability at times, with help and support from the qualified FE staff and through her own determination she learnt never to give up.
Another person putting a human face to these figures is Lucy Gowar. Lucy was inspired to turn a hobby - flower arranging - into a career after she started selling her home grown posies of cottage garden flowers to local farm shops. To improve her floristry skills, and gain business training, Lucy enrolled on a course at her local college. Now trading in Stogumber, Somerset, Lucy's business specialises in locally grown, seasonally available flowers, which not only offers Lucy a sustainable future but also a clear USP when compared with other florists who airfreight in their blooms.
For all of us on 8 March Debbie and Lucy's focus, positivity and purpose is an inspiration and I'm so proud that she, and many other fabulous females just like her, are part of our FE story.