Petra looks just like an ordinary woman plumber; but here’s the thing, women plumbers are anything but ordinary.
Women plumbers represent between 0.4 and 1% of all plumbers in UK. A statistic that hasn’t significantly changed in over 25 years. This means that every female plumber in UK is extraordinary, just by her very existence and persistence.
So we’re not going to pretend that Petra is a ‘typical’ woman plumber. There is no such thing, but here’s her story.
Petra came from Croatia with her family as a young girl. As she became adult she tried many jobs and nothing really suited her. She’s bright, but school wasn’t a great experience for her. She drifted, doing this and that. She had two children. Everything changed for them all when her oldest was diagnosed with a childhood cancer.
Petra is totally devoted to her family and especially her children; they really are her reason for living, so she was determined that she would nurse her son and that he’d survive this ordeal. She also realised that she’ll be the person nursing her dad when he gets older.
She took a look at her life and in the middle of a crisis that would crush many people, she decided she’d give herself the gift of a career that she loved and that would work for her.
While she nursed her son to health, she also studied at college one day a week to become a plumber. She says it was her therapy.
A day a week when she had to concentrate on pipes and joints, pipe runs, systems and fixing things, not on the fragility of life.
Naturally, Petra passed her college course (the City & Guilds Technical Certificate) with flying colours, but that wasn’t it yet, she still needed to go out into the world and ratify her training with an NVQ2.
She knew she’d need work that gave her flexibility and one of the reasons she chose plumbing was that she could quickly become self-employed and run her own business.
Apprenticeships were out, because, like most women who train for skilled trades she is over 25, and anyhow, she needed to be able to quickly support her family financially (wages for apprentices average around £3.50 per hour). She searched and searched for a company that would give her a placement so she could get her on-site experience and be assessed. In spite of all her efforts and determination, no one would take her on and she was running out of time. She was ready to give up and get a job in Tescos. With two days to spare to find a placement Petra came across Stopcocks Women Plumbers, who offered a different way to support her through to qualification and who would enable her to be self-employed and earn from the beginning. Here was the flexibility and community she needed!
Petra borrowed money from her dad to join Stopcocks Women Plumbers as one of the first licencees and started working immediately. (Since Stopcocks have moved into the franchise model of business, Petra has come into the franchise, meaning she now has an asset she can sell or bequeath to her children)
At first, even telling people she was a plumber was difficult and she would phone the Stopcocks helpline for a quick boost before knocking on customers doors.
Although she’d done exceptionally well in college, real life plumbing is totally different and in the early days she sometimes called the mentoring line every five minutes to be talked through a job; but she persisted, and she learned.
Completing jobs on her own boosted her confidence. She earned money, not loads at first, but her income grew visibly and so did the numbers of her happy customers.
Of course, when she had her assessment to qualify she aced it, in fact completing and qualifying months before anyone else from her class at college!
Six years down the line and she has her NVQ3 qualification, her unvented ‘ticket’ and is fully Gas Safe so she can fit and fix boilers and Central Heating.
Her son is well and her daughter is considering following her into the family business. She’s a poster girl for the DWP campaign #NotJustForBoys, she gets featured in magazine articles, she’s spoken at events, and she takes other female trainee plumbers out to show them the ropes. Her assessor has even recently got in touch to ask if she’ll take out a girl he’s assessor for; she has a placement working for a big firm but is just sweeping up and making tea, not completing work for her portfolio or assessment. It’s not really how we usually work, but because she’s running her own franchised Stopcocks Women Plumbers business, Petra is free to decide for herself whether she wants to do this.
Her business is growing, she works long hours but is able to support her home here and finance a new life she’s working towards in Croatia. This means she works and earns here in the UK for about two thirds of the year; spending the rest of the time in Croatia, where she intends to live with her family in ten years.
She loves the independence and flexibility running her own Stopcocks business gives her. Although she’s now very experienced and is great at diagnostics, she still calls the mentoring line about once a week. Every home is different and having someone to discuss a problem with increases our creativity and ability to come up with the best solutions. The cutting edge online systems supplied by Stopcocks mean her admin time is kept to an absolute minimum, and her customers pay on time which is vital for a busy mum.
Petra says ‘Stopcocks saved my life. I needed support and independence at the same time and that’s what they gave me. I love being a plumber and now all my family can look forward to a great future.’