It can be really hard to know which route to take when it comes to decision time at school or college. For Rachel, a 25-year-old plumber from Flintshire in Wales, she knew that despite good grades, she wanted to pursue a career that let her use her love of practical skills.
Since joining the trades industry, Rachel has been inspired to share what life as a female tradesperson is like, and regularly shares updates on life as a plumber on her TikTok and Instagram accounts – you can follow her at @plumbingbyrach.
As part of Checkatrade’s Get In Programme, which is actively encouraging more young people into the construction and trades industry to fill a major UK skills gap, we spoke to Rachel to find out what life is like as a female plumber and how her apprenticeship with a small local business kickstarted her success.
Why did you decide to choose a career in construction or the trades?
“Once I had completed my GSCE’s I knew I didn’t want to return to school to do my A-Levels and I didn’t want to go to university. I did well in school, but it just wasn’t the right environment for me. I wanted to do something practical I had never done before.”
How did you get into the construction and trades industry – what route did you take?
“I started a Level 1 plumbing course in college. As soon as the course began, we were encouraged to look into apprenticeships. I sent out a CV and cover letter to local plumbing firms and I got an apprenticeship with a small local business. I had started college in the September and started my apprenticeship in the following January. I still work with the same company almost 10 years later.”
The Checkatrade Trade Skills Index report reveals that 85% of people employed in the construction industry are men and 92% of construction and trades apprentices are male. Do you notice this when you’re on the job?
“I work mainly in domestic properties on my own, so I don’t often work among other trades. However, in college and at the builder’s merchants for example it is very clear that construction is a male dominated industry.
Thanks to social media, I now know of hundreds of tradeswomen dotted across the country, but we are all one of few tradeswomen in our area. The only other tradeswoman I know of in my area is my sister who is an electrician.”
How do people react when you tell them you’re a woman in the construction and trades industry?
“People are always shocked. No one ever expects me to say that I’m a plumber.
I would say around 90% of customers I visit will mention something about me being a woman and ask me why I do it.”
How do you think we can inspire more women into trades careers?
“I think schools and colleges firstly need to show it as an option to women and young girls.
In school, going back to do A-Levels and then go to university was the only option that was encouraged. Going into construction wasn’t even discussed by teachers. Even when I went to my college induction for the plumbing course, I was asked if I wanted to look at other course options instead.”
Have you ever experienced judgment for your career choice, or have you had positive experiencesyou could share?
“Yes, people definitely judge, but people pass judgement in every walk of life. My appearance doesn’t fit the ideal stereotype of what a plumber should be and so people automatically assume I’m not capable, but I know I’m more than capable, so I don’t let it affect me. Customers are always inquisitive but generally their reaction to me is positive.”
Checkatrade is actively encouraging more young women into the construction and trades industry through our career programmes. What would you say to young women and girls who are considering a career in trades?
“Women are more than capable of working in construction. I have never come across anything I wasn’t able to do because I’m a woman. The knowledge and skills you gain by working in the construction industry is something you’ll never lose and will help you through every part of your life.”
Checkatrade’s Get In Programme is actively encouraging more young people into the construction and trades industry after the 2023 UK Trade Skills Index revealed that the UK needs an extra one million workers in order to keep up with the ongoing demand. Over 24,000 skilled apprentices need to qualify every year over the next ten years if the UK is to keep up with construction output.
Find out more about how you can join the construction and trades workforce here, or read more about Checkatrade’s pledge to help plug the skills gap here.