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Marie Barrett: Women in Construction and Trade

Marie Barrett

Written by Penny

We're featuring women in construction and trade

This week we spoke to Marie Barrett, gas engineer and partner of Barrett Heating in Essex, a family run business.

Hi Marie, thank you for taking the time to speak to us! So, you’re a gas engineer and partner at Barrett Heating. How did you get to where you are today?

Firstly I must say, I didn’t do particularly well at school. I left school and went to college to become a secretary. I had a good job in London and progressed to become a team leader until I became a mother in 2001.

Whilst I worked in London I went to evening classes to become a Beauty Therapist, it was more like a hobby at the time, but when I left London to become a mum I then worked part time as a Beauty Therapist and ended up running my own beauty business.

I also worked as a receptionist at a Secondary school for 8 years until I met my husband who had his own plumbing and heating business.

This is when I first came into the industry, about 13 years ago. I started off working 1 day a week in the office, typing invoices and answering the phone calls etc. It then progressed to two days a week, then 3, then full time.

On the odd occasion my husband would ask me to help out on site, if he needed an extra pair of hands. The more I went out to work with him the less I wanted to be in the office. I found that, surprisingly, I enjoyed working on site.

So, in September 2017 I was officially the new apprentice and started training as a gas engineer. I did a Managed Learning Programme at Sterling Assessment Centre, Corby, which was great. I was a bit nervous as I was the first female to take the new MLP Course.

They gave me the encouragement and confidence to make me feel that I can be a successful engineer.

I have been on a couple of training days with Vaillant, Ideal and Spirotech, where I met lots of people who have been very supportive to me on Twitter. I am also booked in on an Alpha boiler course in the near future.

What does a regular work day now look like for you?

I now carry out boiler services, attend breakdowns and assist on boiler installs.  I have also assisted in carrying out Landlords’ Gas Safety Certificates (CP12) and installing gas cookers and fires. No two days are the same and you always have to think on your feet.

What has been your favourite project you’ve worked on so far?

My favourite project is one we completed last month which was to renovate a customer’s boiler room.  You can see from the before and after photos.  It took a while to do as everything was put in very precisely, but the customer was very happy with the final outcome. I wish to be able to do more boiler services and fault finding.

It’s really cool to hear about your growth within your role. Do you prefer to work as an individual, or as part of a team?

Although I will be attending jobs on my own in the very near future, I do prefer to work as a team.  I think it is a confidence thing, which will obviously grow with experience.

In the future I will hopefully have my own van and be attending boiler services and breakdowns on my own.  I am excited about this but nervous at the same time!

Maybe one day in the future I would like to train other people and encourage more females to get involved in the industry.

Have you ever engaged with any organisations that are pushing for gender equality in construction and trade?

I will be attending the WIT Conference in July, which I’m very much looking forward to.

I have had articles published in PHPI Magazine as they followed my learning experience every step of the way with Sterling Assessment Centre.

I was approached by Mrs Stephanie Trotter, OBE, President & Director of CO-Gas Safety to attend a meeting with her but was unavailable at the time.

I follow TradesTalk Women on Facebook and talk to many female gas engineers/plumbers on Twitter (and supportive males). There is huge social media support for women in trade and can make you feel that you’re not alone.

Do you have any advice for women who might be deciding whether they want to start a career in the industry?

I felt it was a huge achievement when I passed my ACS exams and couldn’t quite believe I had done it.  I was 50 when I qualified.  So never say never.  If you put your mind to it, you can achieve it!

If I could give any advice to anyone wishing to become a plumbing and heating engineer, it would be to try and get as much experience as possible working alongside a qualified engineer, may be at weekends or in the holidays and attend a great training centre such as Sterling!

There have been many challenges.  It was hard to balance studying, work and running a family home. 

I have had mixed reactions when customers see a woman at the door.  Most people are very supportive and encouraging.  I like to think I’m a people person, so the customers tend to feel comfortable with a woman being in their house. 

I definitely think it is important to encourage more women into the trade.  If women can now go to war, why can’t they be gas engineers!!

One last question: desert island round! Three tracks, a book and a luxury, what would you choose?

Don’t Stop Me Now – QueenBrown Eyed Girl – Van MorrisonWhat a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong.

The book I would choose would be The Bible.  I’m religious but would take the opportunity to read it.

The luxury item would be my dog, Dingus, but don’t think it would be a good idea so I would say a big squidgy feather pillow!

This was Marie Barrett (@MrsBarrettHeat), interviewed for our #WiCW series – a compilation of articles from inspirational women in the Construction and Trades industries. Want to get involved? Have someone to recommend? Get in contact with us on enquiries@shakeandspeare.com

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