An apprenticeship can be daunting for anyone. But what about when you’re a woman entering a sector that’s stereotypically male-dominated.
For Tracy Perkin, the trepidation was far outweighed by her overwhelming desire and enthusiasm to carve out a career in gas engineering and plumbing.
Having worked for the best part of 20 years for a plumber’s merchant selling boiler parts, Plymouth-based Tracy found herself at a career crossroads as she approached her 40th birthday.
Her determination to realise her dreams paid dividends as he was offered an apprenticeship with the largest housing association in the South West, LiveWest.
Estimates suggest that there are around 1,000 female plumbers and gas engineers in the UK which accounts for just two per cent of those working in the trade.
And there are only just 500 who have secured the Accredited Certification Scheme which is the accepted route for experienced gas operatives to gain the certificate of competence needed to become a member of the Gas Safe Register.
Although Tracy’s new career path still provokes an element of surprise for some people, she is thrilled to be able to ‘fly the flag’ for women plumbers.
At the start of National Apprenticeships Week, Tracy said: “I often get that look of surprise when I knock on the door of one of our customers.
“People generally expect a male to arrive and that’s perfectly understandable.
“Our customers are great, and I get lots of comments about how fantastic it is that a woman has come to look at their boiler.
“The plumbing trade has always been male-dominated and it will take time for that to change. I guess I am flying the flag for women.
“What I hope it will do is make people think and consider a career path regardless of gender and age.
“Luckily for me, LiveWest don’t hold any barriers and welcome people whatever their age or gender.”
LiveWest customer Dave Hogg, 74, was full of praise for Tracy after she completed a recent gas check on his property in Plymouth.
The former chief radio supervisor, who spent 22 years serving in the Royal Navy, said: “It’s fantastic, I’m all for female plumbers.
“Tracy came in and was extremely friendly, professional and competent.
“It’s good to see women doing what have traditionally been jobs done by males in the past.
“My daughter is a nurse at Derriford Hospital, and she has lots of friends who are male nurses. It’s about breaking down gender stereotypes.
“I was in the Royal Navy and they could do with more women at sea.”
Against a backdrop of coronavirus restrictions over the past 11 months, Tracy has still been able to carry on her apprenticeship thanks in part to the safety measures employed by LiveWest.
Tracy added: “I have learnt so much over the past year. At first, it is daunting going into someone’s house to fix an issue or do a gas check.
“But you have a mentor with you at all times and Mark Malone has been an amazing support for me.
“There is no better satisfaction than fixing someone’s boiler so that they can get access to hot water and heating again. It puts a smile on my face every time.
“Of course, at this time of year it is extremely busy, and we also have to factor in all of the safety precautions in place to keep ourselves and our customers safe.
“It has been a challenging year for everybody but being able to help in a small way fills me with joy.
“Having worked with LiveWest in my former career, I knew they were the organisation I wanted to work for because of their focus on great customer services and the way they support and develop their employees.
“I am in the second year of my apprentice and it is the best thing that could have happened to me. It has literally changed my life.
“What I would say is that more women should have a go at these trades because you gain some fantastic skills.
“I am a practical person so the best way for me to learn is to have a go at things. I have learnt so much already.
“If you are not a classroom person, on the job training is an excellent way to learn.
“And it is all thanks to LiveWest for believing in me and giving me the platform to show I can do this.”