Retraining for a career in Plumbing

Lynn McCall left school and trained in sports-related courses at college. She obtained her lifeguarding certificate and did that for 8 years, progressing to manager and eventually running all of the public pools within Portsmouth. Lynn wanted a change but was never particularly academic she was more of a hands-on person. So she did a painting and decorating course and then took a part time handy person role working for the Roberts Centre in Portsmouth. There she worked with the temporary accommodation team maintaining 38 flats and a 12 bedroom house which are used to house homeless people. Once individuals were moved into their forever homes, Lynn would go in and show them how to decorate, and how to put up shelves and curtain poles etc. She would help them with the first room and then they would get on and do the rest themselves. Lynn really enjoyed this role, and the only reason she ended up leaving was because it was part time. Lynn is a single parent and with her daughter due to start school she needed more hours. So whilst she was working at the Roberts Centre, Lynn enrolled in a BPEC Level 2 Plumbing Course which she completed in 2022, joining Comserv as a Plumbing Improver in September 2022. In this interview Lynn talks to us about her experience retraining for a second career.
What made you decide to go into plumbing?

Plumbing is something that I’ve always been interested in. When I left school girls didn’t do plumbing and it wasn’t an option that was offered. Whilst I was growing up I had remained interested but I never had the confidence to go for it.

Were there many other women on your course?

There were no women in my group, however there were two other younger girls – school-leavers, so it’s good to see that trade roles are now being offered. I think that being a girl to come into this male-dominated industry you need to be able to take certain things on the chin and when you’re young you don’t necessarily have the confidence.  
How did you find the course?

When I first went to college I knew nothing whatsoever about plumbing. I had completed a few handyman plumbing jobs whilst I was with the Roberts Centre, but everything on the course was new to me. I hadn’t taken exams for 25 years and I had to sit 10 exams. I was also surprised at the maths side which was a really big part of it. We went through everything at college that was required to fit a whole bathroom – bath, toilet, basin, radiators – but you only get to do everything once. Then that item is signed off and you move onto the next thing.

What made you decide to join Comserv?

Once my course was coming to an end, I emailed lots of different companies explaining my situation. I was not confident enough to go out on my own and felt like I needed some on-the-job training. I received a message back from Comserv to go in for an interview. They have given me a contract as a Plumbing Improver which is perfect for me. I’m really grateful to Comserv for giving me the opportunity to train before I go out on my own, and accommodating my child care needs.

When did you join Comserv?

I joined Comserv four months ago, and the number of skills I have learned has been amazing. I’ve been working on all sorts – radiators, baths, toilets. When I first joined I was watching the other Plumbing Operatives, but now when we go in, Jim says what needs doing and I do it whilst he checks it’s okay. Going forwards and once I’m ready, I will need to go in and make the job assessment.

How have you found working with the other Operatives as an Improver?

Everyone has been really nice and friendly. I began working with Dave Collins in void properties and have now gone on to work with a few different people on the responsive repairs side. At the moment I am working with Jim O’Neill.

How have you found it going into Tenant’s homes?

I’ve always been quite confident talking to people. I’m used to it because of my previous jobs. This role does give you an outlook into how different people live.

Do you mind me asking what is it like as a woman working in what is a male-dominated environment?

Nothing bothers me even growing up as I have two brothers, and I played football which was mostly boys so I’m used to a male-dominated environment. I just fit in because it’s the norm for me, and I don’t feel like I’m treated any differently. Obviously men can be stronger than women, so for some tasks like lifting a bath up ten flights of stairs I will struggle. However, there are plenty of people who you can get to help you if needed.

Would you recommend an apprenticeship to a school leaver or someone who is considering a career/education change

Yes definitely. I think Apprenticeships are the way forward for youngsters. Nowadays a lot of kids don’t want to work and they need a bit of incentive. If they go to college full time they’re not earning. With an apprenticeship they are gaining hands-on experience and earning a wage whilst they’re doing it.

In terms of career change, I only wish it was something I did earlier. I would say to anyone to give it a go and it’s never too late to learn something new. Comserv have been absolutely fantastic to me. They let me start slightly later so that I can drop off my little girl at school – they’ve been really accommodating. Companies will make provisions to help you. So go for it!

What would be your advice to any young girls who are considering a trade apprenticeship?

I would say have the confidence to do what you feel you want to do, whether it’s a male-dominated industry or not. Times have changed a lot, just get out there.

What do you like about your job?

I enjoy the day-to-day and meeting different types of people. I also get a sense of achievement if someone has a leak, I fix it and then leave knowing it’s not causing them stress anymore.

I want this job to be for the rest of my working days – it’s full time and offers security for me and my daughter.

Would you like to help to train new apprentices in the future?

Yes I wouldn’t mind once I’m confident enough. It’s a pass it on to the next generation thing isn’t it?

I went into a house the other day and a little old man said “Oooh, we don’t usually get women to come in and do jobs like this.” I replied “Yep, we’ve even left the sink now!” 

What would you say to your younger self if you had your time over?

I’d definitely say to do something like this sooner when I left school so that by now I’d be in a better position and have more experience.