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Emma H: Women in Construction and Trade

Written by Grey

Hi Emma, tell us a little bit about yourself! What do you do?

Hi! Blimey, where to start? I am a 40 yr old mum to two gorgeous and slightly crazy, small boys and wife to Jon, who works his nuts off educating 16-18 yr olds. We all live in beautiful North Devon, just a couple of miles from the sea and are currently undertaking renovation of our house. Despite not being particularly talented at it, I love running and it’s kept me (relatively) sane for many years now.

What led you to do any NVQ2 plumbing after your PhD?

I finished my PhD back in 2009 and have worked for the same company since, but recent circumstances made me feel that I was ready for a change. I didn’t quite realise to what though until my kitchen tap broke and being unable to find a plumber to fix it, I thought I’d give it a go myself. I really enjoyed tinkering away with it and there was a real sense of achievement when at the end, it didn’t fall apart into many pieces and water even came out of it in exactly in the way it was supposed to! It was at that point I saw the potential in learning a trade and getting to enjoy what I was doing (you have permission to also call this a midlife crisis if you wish). 

What led you to do any NVQ2 plumbing after your PhD?

I finished my PhD back in 2009 and have worked for the same company since, but recent circumstances made me feel that I was ready for a change. I didn’t quite realise to what though until my kitchen tap broke and being unable to find a plumber to fix it, I thought I’d give it a go myself. I really enjoyed tinkering away with it and there was a real sense of achievement when at the end, it didn’t fall apart into many pieces and water even came out of it in exactly in the way it was supposed to! It was at that point I saw the potential in learning a trade and getting to enjoy what I was doing (you have permission to also call this a midlife crisis if you wish). 

What has your career path looked like so far?

I did a science degree, followed by some time working in the USA at a research facility which was a great experience. When I returned to the UK, I undertook my PhD looking into the causes of muscle disease in horses. Since then I have worked for a veterinary company, which I am currently still juggling with my training. I completed my level 2 diploma last year at college and as well as embarking on my NVQ2 this year, I am also studying towards my ACS qualification. 

What is your favourite thing about your profession? What is your least favourite thing? 

I have really loved learning something new and developing skills I never imagined I would have. People within the industry have been really encouraging and supportive and I love doing something so practical and varied – every day is different.

I do think that progression from the Diploma could be better supported, particularly as an adult.

We really do rely on the goodwill and sheer generosity of mentors in taking on rapidly greying trainees, and this really should be better recognised and assisted with by the awarding bodies.

Do you have any big goals for the future?

As well as finishing my NVQ2 and becoming “officially” qualified, I am really looking forward to gaining my ACS qualification too.

I am really enjoying completing my gas portfolio and it’s such a kick to get something working again during breakdowns.

I think this side of plumbing fits my tinkering tendencies very well and it’s always nice to leave people with hot water and heating! 

Do you have a mentor figure who has inspired you?

I am incredibly lucky to have been taken under the wing of the very patient Brian Andrew, of Connect Heating & Plumbing. He is mentoring me through both my NVQ and ACS and tolerates amazingly and with great humour my often unconventional lines of thinking and unique ways of using tools/putting things together/taking them apart/making them more broken that they were in the first place.

Do you feel there are many opportunities for women within your industry?

I think there is a very real demand for women in the plumbing industry, particularly among those who may feel more vulnerable. I have been really encouraged by the positive attitude of both customers and the plumbing community, however I do think that the challenges we face as women can differ to men.  Sometimes in any industry, it can be difficult for women to progress when trying to balance work and family life. Although that’s something still in the process of change I do feel that as a result, we massively value opportunities to learn and progress in the face of our other responsibilities.

Is there anything you would like to say to other women who are just entering the industry?

Be brave, ask questions, don’t worry about mistakes and keep positive. Remember that 99% of people are very lovely and want to help and see you succeed. There are some amazing communities on social media for female plumbers and heating engineers, and of course seek out Stopcocks and the legendary Hattie.

Desert island round: Three tracks, a book and a luxury?

Three tracks – The Man by the Killers, Business Time by Flight of the Conchords, Alive by Pearl Jam

Book – The end of the world running club by Adrian Walker

Luxury – Prosecco in the clifftop hot tub at Bedruthan Steps Hotel (surely that’s got to earn me a free spa break, right??)

This was Emma H, interviewed for our #WiCW series – a compilation of articles from inspirational women in the Construction and Trades industries. Want to get read more? Check out our Women in Construction and Trades section. Want to get involved? Have someone to recommend? Get in contact with us on Twitter or enquiries@shakeandspeare.com

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