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How did you get into your chosen profession?
I applied for an apprenticeship a few weeks after leaving school, without any interview experience I knew I would struggle trying to get job experience elsewhere. I didn’t expect to be offered the apprenticeship a few days later, which was amazing. I chose electrical as my uncle is an electrician and at the time he was rewiring a research centre in Antarctica, which proved to me you could take this profession anywhere.
Including your apprenticeship how long have you worked in this profession?
This summer will make it my 10th year here.
Had you always wanted to work in construction? / what inspired you to go down that route?
I will admit I never ever thought I would end up in construction, I was always leaning towards an art and design based job, however, I knew at age 16 it would be a great step into a job where I had something I could fall back on if needed. I personally think leaving school at 16 is such a young age to know exactly what you want to do in life, and an apprenticeship for me was a great thing – it built my personal skills going straight into an adult workplace, it was something practical which I knew I was good at, and it was a full time paid job at the end of the day; it meant I could buy my own driving lessons and save up to travel which at the time I thought was amazing. I chose electrical based on my uncle, knowing I could always ask him if I ever needed help through it.
Was this a career path you felt was presented to you as an option as much as those traditionally considered “less masculine” when you were growing up? Did anyone in your school life or later training encourage or discourage you to work in this area?
This definitely wasn’t a career presented to me growing up; the school I attended never advised apprenticeships as something to do once you left school, we were always pressured into attending 6th form/college/university. A skill-based apprenticeship was never spoken about, which to me now I find very strange as I always tell younger people to head towards apprenticeships rather than the other options. Schools these days are very academic based, but for someone like me who wasn’t very good with the pressure of exams and coursework yet practically was really good, an apprenticeship worked. You’re getting paid to learn on the job whilst having time to attend college, support from every direction either from my mentors at work or by my college tutors.
My school advised apprenticeships as something you do if you fail in school, but it’s the total opposite; I needed my main GCSE’s, I needed people skills, I needed the mind set of wanting to work. In no way is it easier or harder than the other options you’re faced with leaving school, it just all depends on how your mind works; with me I’m much more hands on and practical that’s why it worked for me.
Does it feel like a masculine environment or is that starting to change now?
In the ten years I have been here it has changed for the better yet in my opinion it will always be seen as a masculine environment. Not a day goes by when I don’t knock at a door and the response is “Eeeh a woman”. It’s not the known thing for women to be doing a job like this, to be fixing your toilet, installing your lights or fitting you a new front door. It’s actually something I have been involved in since I started my apprenticeship, with JTL who were the learning provider for apprenticeships. We got together a group of women across the country who worked in construction and we would meet up regularly to discuss how we could raise awareness of the lack of female apprentices in this industry, we even held an event in the House of Commons when I was 18 to promote our initiative/programme. Still to this day it is a struggle for women in construction – the simple things like female uniform has been hard to get hold off, female based toilets on sites and even in main construction buildings have been a things we’ve had to ask for.
What does your typical day involve? What parts of your role do you enjoy the most?
I love the days where we are appreciated, as does everyone, however when we get a job and the tenant doesn’t think anything different of you being a female it brings a bit of normality to your job role. It’s also my favourite job when you get elderly tenants who really enjoy having the company, especially this past year through this pandemic, it has been a really lonely time for some people so I’m more than happy to chat away whilst I’m there doing a job for the customer, it puts a smile on their face and I could have been the only person they’ll see that week. I do like seeing people and when you make their day for something as small as fixing their light fitting or getting their cooker working, it just makes your day as well – I believe it takes nothing to be nice to people, and that’s when I enjoy my job.
How do people react to you – do you think they’re usually expecting a man? Do you ever receive any comments (positive or negative)?
Every job you can predict they will say “eeeh a woman”! Me and my colleague Caitlin always laugh about it, especially if we are paired up on a job together and the customer is taken back by it. The majority of customers are really great about it, quite supportive of females working in construction sometimes have said that they wish they could have gone into a trade, yet it wasn’t supported. However the negative will always stick with you, I’ve had a male customer once take the drill out my hand to do the job himself, I’ve had another male customer refuse me access to repair his shower due to being a woman, so there has been certain times over the past ten years where I have felt pushed back because I’m a female, but I haven’t let it get me down.
How important is it for more women to be encouraged into the industry?
It’s really important because we need to knock down this barrier that thinks woman can’t do a practical, hands on job in construction. There have been times where it has been tough, where I’ve not been as strong as some of the lads, but over the years I have got much better at knowing my strengths in my job. It also isn’t supported enough in schools I think, no girl is asked “Do you want to be an electrician or plumber when you grow up?”.
What would you say to any young women or girls who are interested in work of this nature? Any top tips for success or things they should or shouldn’t focus on?
I would say go for it! If you have thought about going into construction but never felt supported to, go for it; the support is definitely there in the workplace and, if it isn’t, don’t stand for that. I couldn’t have finished my apprenticeship without the support from everyone at work. I’ve never come across one male that I work alongside who has said I shouldn’t be here or doing this job, they have all helped me along the way.
It also grows your people skills; you deal with customers and work colleagues every day. Don’t focus on the hard things that you may come across, like someone disagreeing that a female is in construction or that you’re having to ask for help because you might not be able to lift something on your own, it’s all about showing all of your skills and what you can bring to the workforce. If more women stepped into construction, then the façade that it is masculine job would be gone I suppose.