I think I was interested in Plumbing for several years before I decided to train. I had a decent Career as a Copy Editor in Publishing which made perfect sense after gaining a BA Hon in English Literature in my younger days. I was good at my job since I am a thorough, pedantic type at heart. However, I felt unfulfilled. This became evident when my Employer’s company folded in 2006 and I found myself out of work and pregnant with my son.
I faced the choice of moving away from the support of my family and back to London where Publishers are in profusion, or a career change at the age of 30. In short, enforced redundancy presented an opportunity to re-train and I knew what I wanted to do.
"Most people are curious as to why I chose Plumbing – I thought being a tradesperson would be easier to work around childcare and employment would always be plentiful, varied and challenging."
There was a 1 year waiting list to enrol at my local college and when my son turned 2, I received confirmation that my course would begin. The year my course started, it became impossible to gain an NVQ in Plumbing without completing a 12 month introductory course first. This suited me because it covered site regulations and basic practical skills. My Classmates were all men with varying levels of experience in the industry and after some initial eyebrow raising and jokes, I think they realised I was there to stay and settled down, treating me as an equal.
Later on, it emerged that I had been awarded the dubious title “Rach-lopedia”; such was my ability to recall information such as water regulations. I would help the guys prepare for written assessments in return for help with practical assignments.
After the first year, I decided I need more valuable on site experience and went to work a couple of days a week with a local Plumber. I later approached a contractor for my local Council and offered my services on a voluntary basis, in return for some more varied Plumbing and Heating training. After a few months, the Company offered me a full time Apprenticeship and a chance to complete my NVQ in Heating and Ventilating.
"Some customers, namely female, could barely hide their disappointment once they realised the installation would be completed by a woman."
Although the Council had not employed a female Plumber before, I was aware of other females working in the industry in the local area. I wasn’t exactly blazing a trail but I was occasionally treated differently to my male colleagues. Some customers, namely female, could barely hide their disappointment once they realised the installation would be completed by a woman.
Although male colleagues concealed their scepticism well, I think the general consensus to begin with was that I would not manage and my work would be inadequate in some way. This was confirmed by impromptu on- site checks from management whereas my male colleagues were left to work with minimal supervision.
It finally culminated in an incident where I was quick to be blamed for a costly mistake made by a (male) colleague. I will add that the culprit owned up and I was vindicated. The scrutiny over my work evaporated as time went on and rather than be bitter, the experience restored my faith in what I was doing. Rarely, in my days of Publishing, would someone admit to making a mistake if they could allow someone else to shoulder the blame. It made me feel accepted as part of the team.
"On the whole, I believe customers are happy to have a female tradesperson working in their home. The older ladies feel safer as do a lot of men, knowing that their partners are not home alone with a male plumber!"
If anything, added pressure makes you want to excel at your game, if only to prove critics wrong. I developed a thick skin and channelled my energies into doing a good job with the materials available to me. On the whole, I believe customers are happy to have a female tradesperson working in their home. The older ladies feel safer as do a lot of men, knowing that their partners are not home alone with a male Plumber!
Learning a new skill at 30 requires a lot of discipline. Most mature students study in addition to a regular job (in my case being a full time Mum). This is tiring as you get older. You need to be able to respect that there will be youngsters on site that are better than you and treat criticism as a form of assistance and direction. An obstinate personality is also helpful – especially when your colleagues want to “help” you by completing tasks on your behalf when they think you are struggling. This is not beneficial to your training in the long run.
"There is a proliferation of inadequately trained Plumbers in the market place. This means the majority of your time as a Plumber is spent rectifying the poor work of the inexperienced."
Half way through my Apprenticeship, the Government withdrew funding for Mature Students and I was informed that my training would subsequently be withdrawn. My college course co-ordinator threatened to strike over the decision as he felt I had worked doubly hard to be taken seriously and obtain my Apprenticeship. After a lengthy delay, I was eventually reinstated and became the only student in my class to qualify in Plumbing, Heating and Ventilation that year.
According to Careers Skills, who train mature students looking for a career change, there is still a shortage of Plumbers in the UK, despite the gradual influx of Central and Eastern European tradespersons. According to the IPHE (Institute of Plumbers and Heating Engineers), long waiting lists and substantial course fees are to blame. This has led to many prospective students enrolling on Fast Track courses, promising a Trades qualification after just 6 weeks. As a result, there is a proliferation of inadequately trained Plumbers in the market place. This means the majority of your time as a Plumber is spent rectifying the poor work of the inexperienced.
Contrary to popular belief, Plumbing is not easy work for the academically challenged and an ability to solve problems is integral to do well in this role. As much as it is satisfying to complete an installation or fix a leak, being a Plumber can be cold, wet and backbreaking. If you are averse to getting mucky, don’t consider plumbing as a career. I have lost count of the times I have been covered in effluent waste and because of this, it is advisable to pay for a course of Hepatitis A vaccines and invest in some decent PPE.
Another myth is that plumbers can earn 100k per annum. In reality, the average salary of UK Plumber stands at £16,000 to £30,000. For Plumbing to be a lucrative career it is worth spending extra time and money on becoming “Gas Competent” – this is the new “Corgi” and will mean you can specialise in heating and eventually servicing – nice clean work!
Carrying out Installation work is essential to fully understand how things physically fit in to a Bathroom but I did not want to work on site indefinitely, such are the risks to health, your back and your knees as you get older. Personally, I did not have the time or additional funds to specialise in gas and after a few years crawling around people’s lofts and bathrooms, I decided to transfer my skills to supplying bathroom products; settling in to my new role in bathroom sales.
It is interesting to note the range of innovative and luxurious products available for modern bathrooms, especially after working to a strict budget with my council work. I tend to regard a remote controlled WC in the same esteem as a brand new style handbag or heels. My technical and product knowledge has evolved dramatically since I joined the company in April 2014 and I continue to marvel at the latest sanitary innovations.