Training Women in Digital Technology: An Interview with Joan Farrer

In the final article in his three part series on PONToon, the University of Portsmouth’s digital training project for women aged 18 – 35 years, Community Reporter Andrew Larder interviews Joan Farrer, who leads the project as its Principal Investigator.

Andrew Larder: What is the remit of the whole Pontoon project in UK and France (not just these workshops)?

Joan Farrer: The PONToon project (Partnership Opportunities using New Technologies fostering sOcial and ecOnomic inclusion) is funded by the European Regional Development Fund Interreg Chanel programme. It aims to promote both cultural change and skills development identified as necessary to achieve gender equality in the digital arena by The Women in the Digital Age study, published by the European Commission in 2018. The project targets self-identifying women between the ages of 18 and 35, who are disadvantaged by their gender, who may be socially excluded have challenges such as caring responsibilities, health issues, or restricted mobility, or women who have some digital skills and would like to be upskilled into better jobs. Our women often have a lack of confidence, key soft skills and could benefit from digital up-skilling towards improving their situation. The aim of the PONToon project is to combine Design Thinking methods, Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology, and Transdisciplinary Design in order to ask the question: can engagement with creative and digital practices foster female social inclusion and increase employment opportunities?

 AL: What new digital tools have been developed so far, by Portsmouth or partners?

JF: The following digital tools have been developed by CCI researchers, [are] applicable for all UK and French partner use, and are suitable for smart phone, tablet and computer users:

  • Career Guide – The PONToon Career Guide is an aspirational tool to help people discover what careers may be of interest and what employment would suite to their interests. After completing a short survey, users are given a series of digital job cards which can be swiped left or right to ‘like’ or dismiss them opening up a wide menu of options
  • JobMap – The PONToon Job Map app is a recruitment website that features an easy-to-use map that shows users various job opportunities in their local area. Jobs can be searched by key phrases and can be applied for within the app
  • 360 Train Station – This tool is intended to help people find their way to interview. The 360 Train Station is a virtual reality (VR) tool that features 360 images of local train stations, helping people familiarise themselves with the train station, locate ticket machines and noticeboards in advance of travelling to the station. (To make mistakes at home and practice in their own secure environment)
  • Community Map – Community Map helps people to find useful services relating to employment support, transport, digital training and more. The app can filter services by type and also allows users to mark their own important locations.

 In addition, the toolkit will contain eManuals and webinars of the workshops delivered throughout the project so that future trainers can use our learning resources to deliver training across a broader demographic.

AL: What work has been done since 2017? 

JF: In the first year partners got to know each other’s organisations and networks in England and France through exchanges and events, to begin the co-creation process of the project (what do we need, how do we achieve this together).

In the last year, apps have been developed from numerous initial concepts to a smaller number of working prototypes in consultation with French and English participants. In addition to this, the university and various project partners have run workshops on digital upskilling and soft skills employment. These include a digital fabric design workshop with the Aspex Gallery, a photography workshop run by Eastleigh Borough Council, vocational courses delivered by French partner GIP FCIP (de l’Académie de Caen), and soft skills and confidence building Amiens Metropole.

 After successfully working with a group of women from Portsmouth Community Day Rehab centre, women were recruited as ambassadors for the project, and are now working with the University team in an outreach capacity to improve our community engagement and begin the testing of the digital tools for feedback and improvement.

AL: What are the targets for the Portsmouth project when it ends?

JF: The project as a whole (UK and France partnership) has the following targets:

1600 women will be directly supported in achieving applying for, or better or more sustainable employment through the use of the partner’s skills and expertise supported by the digital toolkit, of which:

    • 450 will gain formal qualifications;
    • 100 will start a business/social enterprise or become self-employed;
    • 500 will complete work placements;
    • 400 will gain employment.
Image courtesy of University of Portsmouth.

AL: What other work is still to come before the project ends in November 2020?

JF: From a Portsmouth perspective, we have a number of workshops in the pipeline, which we are intending to run in the community and in educational environments to explain the digital world. We will also begin the last phase of testing for the digital tools from January, going out to businesses and community support organisations throughout southern England and Northern France. We will establish a sustainable programme to run beyond the close of the project to ensure a future for the work

AL: What have the outcomes been locally for the project so far?

JF: It is very hard to quantify our interventions at this half way stage, since the impact of the project will be felt over a long period of time. However we have been busy connecting and working with various groups in the local Pompey area including, PUSH Forum, the Job Centre, the Female Entrepreneurs Network, St Monica’s House and the Cultural Women’s Group.

Some women have attended one-off training events whilst others have developed a closer relationship with the project and continue to benefit from working with us. Success stories and case studies are being compiled for publication following participants being employed by the University and partners. The women were hired by the university after attending PONToon workshops.

In the summer of 2019, we held our first series of experimental workshops, including self-awareness, CV writing, photography, which were attended by 30 local women from diverse backgrounds and we continue to improve our reach.

AL: This is an EU-funded project. What impact is Brexit likely to have on projects like this in Portsmouth in the future?

JF: Like the rest of the Brexit debate, it is very hard to tell! We have been assured, that regardless of the outcome, funding will be maintained until the end of the project. Only time will tell whether similar initiatives will be feasible in the future. 


Read more of Andrew’s series on PONToon: 

PONToon Project Offers Employment Workshop for Women

‘Believe in Yourself and Don’t Give Up!’ Two Portsmouth Women Changing Lives


This story is part of our ongoing series from our #ReclaimTheNews team, a group of local residents trained in investigative journalism in partnership with The Centre for Investigative Journalism. The group now forms S&C’s Community Reporting team. Check back regularly for more news from the team and help us to spread the word by sharing their articles with your friends and networks.