This Wednesday we interviewed Bethany Jane Peacock, a L3 Electrical apprentice for T Clarke – a commercial construction company.
Hi Bethany, thank you for speaking with us today! Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
In my 20’s I worked as a freelance contemporary dancer (and, ‘cough’ a bartender) in Newcastle. However, by the age of 30 I was working in a Secondary School supporting pupils with additional needs.
After much thought, on my 35th birthday I declared, “I want to be an Electrician” and set about looking for funding. I applied for some through City and Guilds and was so confident I would be successful I handed in my notice at work. I didn’t get any funding. Through a fluke of luck, I received some inheritance which enabled me to pay for my level 1.
Initially, I undertook work experience as a Building Services volunteer and during Covid I networked online avidly asking people to help me find an apprenticeship. Eventually, many interviews later, a fantastic woman from the NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) recommended I contact T-Clarke who invited me for an interview and offered me a job.
After your 35th birthday epiphany, what motivated you to become an electrician?
Over the years I had looked into all sorts of trades: Carpentry, Electrical, Dry stone walling, Thatching, gardening and even mechanics but the practicalities of changing careers and the confidence that it required to do so meant nothing came of it. In 2018 I gave birth which brought me a new lease of motivation plus, I had the emotional and financial support from my fantastic partner.
I chose the electrical trade because I’d spent five years supporting pupils through their GCSE Maths and Science and so it made sense to put all that knowledge to use.
What was your first day on the job like?
I hadn’t slept well for several days due to over excitement and nerves. Everything I had worked for had culminated into that point and I was overwhelmed. I felt really conscious that I was the only female construction worker on site and didn’t want to make a fool of myself or look incompitant. Although I love my job now , I couldn’t enjoy those first few days and attempted to disappear behind my hat, glasses, coat and face mask.
What part of your job do you wish you got to do more of?
Drilling. It’s the one job I imagined I’d do all the time but have done little of. Commercial work in modern buildings is very different from domestic where you’d expect the walls to be entirely plaster and brick.
What is your favourite thing about your profession?
I call it ‘the fresh air feeling’. It’s that freedom of movement, the exertion of physical energy coupled with problem solving and teamwork. Mmmmm fresh. Happy.
What is your least favourite thing?
Lack of women at lunch times . I miss the comfy school staff rooms with sweet biscuits, scorching hot tea and the ‘patter’ only women do with other women. Currently, my lunches take place in a muddy shipping container… yea, appetising.
What kind of projects get you the most excited?
The project I’m working on now! We are working on building a brand new secondary school in Northumberland. I love the large scale of things and the wide variety of jobs. The space is highly transient, each day the building grows little. On a personal level, I get excited by any new skill I can get my teeth into.
Is there anything you would like to say to other women who are just entering the industry?
If you are about to commence a job I’d say you don’t need to compensate for being a woman. You don’t have to act like a ladette if you’re not one and you don’t need to feel under pressure to lift anything you can’t manage.
If you are hoping to enter into the industry, I would tell you to be cautious of advice given by non-trady people. You need a stock answer pre-prepared to combat unhelpful comments, mine was “I feel confident my plan is a good idea”. Here are some of the unhelpful comments I received: ” if you can’t cope with blokes banter you’re headed for the wrong career. You don’t drive so you probably won’t get hired. This is the wrong time for a career change. You’re probably going to need a thick skin. Do you even know what an Ohm is? Do you still think you’ll make a good electrician* (* sarcastic face). If you have always been interested in electronics then I would say ‘go for it’ (but knowing full well I haven’t). For each occasion you override these comments with your awesome powers of womanhood, you grow stronger.
Finally, the more women the better, feel proud of yourself. Know you’re playing a part in the history of diversity and women in industry. It won’t always be easy but it will be exciting.
As an advocate for women in trade, why do you think it’s important for the industry to be diverse?
It’s well documented that diversity in the workplace improves growth due to new perspectives and ideas. Currently less than 3% of electrician’s in the UK are women. I find it bizarre that ‘the construction trades’ are one of the only ‘critical worker’ sectors that are so, so heavily one gendered. This needs to change.
If the construction trades were suddenly all engendered 50/50 there would be a mass altercation of the perception of what women are good at. This would have a knock on effect of the performed roles within our homes, our hobbies and our relationships. More women in trades = more gender equality in general. Bring it on.
Do you have any female role models within your industry (from your tutor, to motivation from your mum)?
I love popping on Twitter or Insta and following other female sparkies. Please check out my fav UK based electrician @Shes_ElectricUK (Karen Boom) on Twitter and my fav Oz apprentice is @totaltoolsaustralia (larzy the sparky) on Instagram.
Finally, we like to end with a desert island round! Three tracks, a book and a luxury: what would you take to a desert island?
I love this question because I’m always listening to the radio program.
1. Nathan Fake – Outhouse
2. The Commitments (the 1991 film) – Destination Anywhere
3. Herb Alpert – Spanish Flee
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
I should probably say a hacksaw…
But really I’d want a good pair of headphones.
This was Bethany, who can be found on Twitter at @electrical_bp
This interview was for our #WiCW series – a compilation of articles from inspirational women in the Construction and Trades industries.