PONToon Project Offers Employment Workshops for Women

A University of Portsmouth project aiming to improve skills and employment opportunities for local women will be running a series of 12 workshops for 18-35 year old women in the city. S&C Community Reporter Andrew Larder reports.

This August sees an exciting opportunity for women aged between 18 to 35 years in Portsmouth to learn new skills to help them gain employment, return to work or start up their own businesses. The University of Portsmouth branch of the PONToon project is based in the creative industries Eldon Building, Winston Churchill Avenue and they will be running 12 workshops over three days between 20th and 22nd August 2019.

Workshops include: Discovering your Professional Self; Interview Skills; CV Writing; Start Your Own Business; Selling online; Promotional video skills for Business; Cyber Security and introductions to Video Skills; Photography; Photo Editing.

Each day deals with a different aspect of helping women to get back to work.

  • Day one, 20/08/19 Personal Development
  • Day two, 21/08/19 Entrepreneurs
  • Day three, 22/08/19 Digital Skills 

The dictionary definition of the word ‘pontoon’ includes the description; ‘watertight structure used in supporting a bridge. For this project ‘PONToon’ is an acronym for Partnership Opportunities using New Technologies fostering sOcial and economic inclusioN.

Running across the south of England and northern France, PONToon involves 11 UK and French partners with a total budget of nearly 6 million euros. 69% of the funds come from EU grants and a major sponsor is Interreg 5A France (Channel) with the remaining 31% coming from partner contributions. The project began in June 2017 and runs until November 2020, and is led by the University of Portsmouth UK.

Women in the workplace can be at a disadvantage concerning IT Skills. This may be due to illness, a lack of opportunities, discrimination or starting a family. The rapid expansion of the tech sector has led to a skills shortage and women being underrepresented. 90% of jobs in 2020 will need digital skills, a government survey has shown that 72% of employers will not consider applicants without them.

The Financial Times has reported that the big tech companies; Apple, Intel, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter employ women in only about 20 percent of tech and leadership roles. Equally alarming is that the industry is creating products that focus on the needs of white males because there is little input from women or other ethnicities. Studies have shown that Artificial Intelligence algorithms sometimes have a built-in bias, for example; showing doctors as male or women as homemakers.

Southsea parent Maddie Wallace told me, ‘Going back to work after having children can feel really daunting. You have to make the transition between full-time parenting and going back into the workforce. Becoming a parent changes you and many women feel that the career they had before children is not something they wish to continue with. It’s hard to find services and training specifically designed to help mothers access employment. I went to the job centre and asked for help, but there was nothing they could offer me. In the end I was really lucky to get a job through word-of-mouth, but it could have been very different.

‘I took time off work with four children, and although I went back in between the third and fourth child, when I returned to work in January 2017 I found that things had changed dramatically since I’d stopped working a few years beforehand. Technology had really changed in that time, and I had to muddle through and learn new ways of working, such as databases, cloud systems and new apps, that I had no experience of. A project like PONToon would have been so helpful for me.’

Professor Joan Farrer is the Principal Investigator on the project, which includes four cities and rural areas across the south of England. Professor Farrer said,Women have been left behind in this digital age. PONToon is addressing this imbalance in the workforce by upskilling women in the “digital” in southern England and northern France.’

Apart from the workshops PONToon are also using technology in practical ways to help people find employment. The PONToon digital toolkit seeks to improve career opportunities and digital skills in underprivileged groups. App developer TinRaven has created a Community Map, giving users helpful information such as transport, health, digital support amongst other things. A Job Map has also been developed that features a live map of work available in the user’s area. Jobs can be ‘saved’, and applications made later.

Another feature on the toolkit is a Virtual Reality train station to assist clients unfamiliar with using public transport which could be used for training purposes. Developers are working to use the tool on Oculus Rift headsets for an improved, quality experience. 

Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset in use during PONToon project. Image credit, PONToon. 

Those working with the project are using innovative methods. Carolyn Watt, PhD, held a performance seminar: ‘Balancing Female identity: social aerial circus and digital media’ in June this year. Using circus skills such the hoop and trapeze, Carolyn allowed participants to celebrate their achievements, combining their performance with the use of a 360-degree digital camera.         

Partners from the UK include The Aspex Gallery (Gunwharf Quays) Portsmouth; ADICE; Eastleigh Council; Plymouth and District Mind; Digital Peninsula Network in Cornwall (DPN) and WSX Enterprise based in Fareham. Those in France include Trajectio; Maison de l’Emploi et de la Formation Professionnelle du Pays de Brest;  GIP FCIP de l’académie de Caen and Amiens Métropole.

The University have appointed two PONToon ambassadors, Hollie Eve and Louise Hounsell. They see their role as ‘reaching out to ladies aged 18-35, who are out of work, stuck in a rut or starting their own business.’ They want people to know that help is available and are well qualified to promote PONToon as they have benefitted themselves. They say the confidence they have gained is priceless and to ‘Always believe in yourself.’

Further information

Portsmouth City Council’s advice on starting your own business.


Tickets for the workshops are free and can be booked via Eventbrite.

Visit PONToon’s website for more information on the project.