• Lesley-Anne McKeown BBC News NI
  • Niall McCracken BBC News NI

There are 21 women working in MoT centres across Northern Ireland and just six of them are vehicle inspectors, new figures show.

The gender breakdown of staff at all 13 centres has been revealed after a Freedom of Information request from BBC News NI.

Out of a workforce of 451, there are 430 men and 21 women employed.

The Department for Infrastructure, which runs MoT centres, has said it has taken steps to encourage applications from under-represented groups, including women.

The highest number of women working in an MoT centre is in Cookstown in County Tyrone, where there are four female workers - one vehicle inspector and three others in administrative roles.

There are 30 men working at the same centre, 24 of whom are vehicle inspectors.

In Craigavon in County Aramgh all three women working at the facility are vehicle inspectors. There are 19 male vehicle inspectors.

At Newtownards MoT centre in County Down there are three women workers but just one female vehicle inspector. There are 32 men employed as vehicle inspectors.

The FOI figures show there are no women working at MoT centres in Armagh, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Hydebank or Larne in any capacity.

Enrolment of women on motor vehicle apprenticeship courses is improving but numbers remain low.

Seventeen-year-old Rebekah Gillis is among only a dozen female apprentice mechanics at South West College in Dungannon in County Tyrone.

She wants to own her own garage and said it was "hard" for some women when looking for work because of stereotypes.

"A lot of other places would benefit from having a girl, it would help their reputation, their image," she said.

"I feel that girls need to get into a lot more jobs that are labelled masculine.

"I really think that girls should get more into doing it."

Specific MoT centres are unique to Northern Ireland - in other parts of the UK tests can be carried out by private sector companies.

The number of women accounts for 4% of the total workforce.

According to the Institute for the Motor Industry about 81% of the automotive industry across the UK is male and 19% is female.

Highly outnumbered

Billy-Jo McKenzie from Aughnacloy is studying motorsport engineering and would like to work in Formula 1.

"When I was leaving school, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do," she told BBC News NI.

"I just knew I liked fixing things and didn't want to sit in an office all day."

She said that more women were now getting into the industry but more work needed to be done to make it a more attractive career choice.

"You used to not see many females coming into this industry but the past few years have seen quite a few more starting to pick up and come in.

She said she was "not surprised" by the 4% figure for women among the MoT workforce.

"It's highly outnumbered - there's not many of us," she said.

"I am not surprised there's that much of a shortage of us. They need to advertise and get more people brought in.

"I was the only girl in my class."

Ellie O'Hagan, who is 17 and from Cookstown, said attitudes among some in the industry were still out-dated.

"That's when you turn around and say I'm going to prove you wrong," she said.

Paul Eagleson, a deputy head of department from the South West College in Dungannon said efforts were being made to improve diversity on mechanic courses.

"We are constantly trying to improve that situation," he said.

"We would love to have a more diverse group of students."

Support networks have also been set up to promote the courses among women.

"I think it's historical because that subject wasn't a traditional route that young women went down," he said.

"There's no reason for that now. Absolutely no reason.

"We all want a diverse workforce, we want the opportunities to be equal for everyone.

"There are great opportunities within this sector."

In a statement, the Department for Infrastructure said: "The civil service is an equal opportunities employer."

A spokeswoman added that Positive Action Advertising statements were included in a recent job ad recruiting for vehicle examiners to encourage more applications from women.


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