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A Man's World? Women as Plumbers and Electricians

By: Fiona Courtenay Thompson BA (Hons) - Updated: 31 Jul 2017 |
Plumber Electrician Women Woman Training

Picture a plumber or electrician and almost certainly it’s a man doing the job. Male-dominated trades they are, but the UK is currently experiencing a shortage of these skilled workers; there has never been a better time for women to break into this man’s world.

Research on the web into training shows bias towards attracting boys and men through college doors and into apprenticeships. Dig a bit deeper, though, and there is support for women from the men in the trade, and there are many women out there making successful careers for themselves as plumbers and electricians.

For women who want to break into this world, there are three essential requirements: bags of determination, incredible staying power and a thick skin. Ask any woman in the trades, though, and she will say it is worth it.

But Can Women Do the Job?

Yes, of course they can. A woman plumber or electrician is a professional, just as is their male equivalent. Women and men are equally likely to be trustworthy, respectful, honest, friendly and well organised in their work and they are equally likely to have the skills needed to do the job. Women may be put off because they don’t always have the equivalent strength of a man, but with the right tools this minor obstacle is easily overcome.

What Skills are Needed?

Whether a man or a woman there are some basic skills needed to be a good plumber or electrician. Strong practical skills are essential for dealing with tricky pipe work and wiring. As both plumbers and electricians spend a lot of time in small and often dark spaces, agility and flexibility are pretty useful – and getting dirty and dusty goes with the territory. Other essential skills include the ability to problem solve and a tidy and methodical approach to work. Working well with customers is also important if a tradesperson is to do a good job and get more work through word of mouth. Communication and listening skills get the job done the way the customer wants it and mean that they will be more relaxed about having a stranger in their home.

A plumber or electrician who also has imagination and a creative approach to their work is someone to be treasured and is likely to have more work than they can handle.

Normal colour vision is crucial to an electrician as they need to be able to distinguish between the different coloured wires in a circuit. As women are less likely than men to suffer from colour blindness they are less likely to be excluded from training as a result. However, both women and men applying for training will be tested for colour blindness.

How and Where to Study

Women plumbers and electricians report that they have found it hard to enrol onto courses and have at times been pointed in the wrong direction, for example onto ‘do it yourself’ plumbing courses for women. It is important to know which is the right course to attend and to persevere with the application.

For plumbing, the full training can take up to three years and begins with the City and Guilds level 1 Technical Certificate in Plumbing Training. Further qualifications, NVQ levels 2 and 3, are taken while working. Once qualified, there are a range of courses that can be taken to top up skills.

The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers (CIPHE) is the professional body for plumbers in the UK. They can provide further information on the right training and qualifications needed to become a plumber. In spite of the shortage of plumbers, there may be waiting lists for courses so it is important to apply in plenty of time. Various crash courses are advertised but these are not recommended by the CIPHE.

Prospective electricians will need to take the City and Guilds Technical Certificate in Electro-technical Technology levels 2 and 3 and a minimum NVQ level 3 in Electrical Installation. The Learning Skills Council and the Joint Industry Board will give information on the right courses to take.

Apprenticeships with either plumbers or electricians have been hard to come by in recent years and have tended to go to school leavers. Currently, however, the Government is boosting apprenticeships and encouraging both men and women to break down work–gender stereotypes. This should mean more apprenticeship opportunities for women in the male-dominated trades and it is worth exploring the Government website about apprenticeships for more information.

Getting Work and Wages

Once qualified, it can be hard for a woman to find work in these trades. There are registers of women plumbers and electricians that offer support and help with business set up, but often women find that it is best to set up on their own, working hard to gain experience and to build up a client base. The determination and strength of character any woman needs to qualify in these trades will stand in them in good stead for running their own business and once working, women’s earnings are the same as men’s.

Job Satisfaction

While most plumbers and electricians are still men, more and more women are training, working and supporting each other in these skilled trades. Be determined and don't give up – once qualified and working there is immense job satisfaction to be gained and plenty of work to be done even in the current economic climate.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
@Lex - thanks for your words, I'm sure they will help our readers.
ExploreAdultLearning - 22-Jun-15 @ 2:51 PM
I have found it challenging finding work/apprenticeship in the electrical field. It is important for me to persevere and be positive, although i can understand why some women just choose another path, having to face too many barriers. I am still looking, regardless. i mean how hard can it be to find work experience with a firm/company and complete NVQLevel 3? All I can say is, DON'T GIVE UP!
Lex - 19-Jun-15 @ 5:59 PM
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