From education to employment

College says surge in female plumbing applications is great for industry ahead of national campaign

Kayleigh and Shelby

Suffolk New College has backed a campaign called World Plumbing Day (Sat 11 March 2023) that aims to celebrate the ‘important role plumbing plays in the health and safety of modern society’.

The Ipswich based educational facility welcomes this focus on plumbing and is also keen to promote a trend that has seen an increase in the amount of females in construction.

A report in 2021 by Go Compare claimed that the amount of women who had taken on apprenticeships in construction and engineering had increased by 366% between 2009 and 2019.

Whilst these huge numbers haven’t quite been replicated at Suffolk New College in Ipswich, there has been a significant rise in applications for students on construction courses, particularly on plumbing courses – and that can only be a good thing according to Richard Steward, one of the top plumbing specialists at the College.

Richard said: “If you compare female student numbers on plumbing courses at Suffolk New College in the last decade, we have definitely seen a major rise. We have six females on courses this year, and they consistently outperform the boys in terms of exams and their work.

“There are three on our level two plumbing course at the moment, and they are the three best students by far. One of the students scored 55 out of 60 in their most recent exam. Those numbers are incredible.”

In terms of the World Plumbing Day campaign, Richard continued “I think it’s a great idea and there should be a theme this year to encourage more female plumbers (and people in construction) to get into the industry.

“I think some customers feel more at ease having female tradespeople in their house. Overall, there have been lots of positive steps forward, but the industry needs to make greater forward strides in relation to this issue. We certainly intend to do our bit.”

One of the three female students on the level two plumbing course at Suffolk New College is Kayleigh Reid, 32, from Ipswich. Kayleigh previously work in catering and care, gained qualifications in painting and decorating and decided to learn plumbing as she eventually wants to start her own property development company.                                                      

Kayleigh said: “Over the years, people have tried to put me off a career in construction but the more they told me I couldn’t do it, the more I wanted to prove them wrong. I started this course as I see it as an investment in myself. I’ve had mental health problems in the past so I like the job as it keeps you in the moment, you don’t bring stuff home with you and it can be therapeutic.”

Kayleigh’s sister Shelby (Reid), 25, from Ipswich is also on the level two plumbing course. Shelby said: “Our family has got someone in the every area of the construction trade apart from a plumber, so I thought why not be the plumber. I’m really enjoying it – and I want to gain an apprenticeship as soon as possible and then eventually become self-employed. I’d say to other females thinking about it is that if you enjoy being hands on, this is a great career and this is a perfect opportunity to try something different.”

Annie Smith, 19, from Ipswich hasn’t experienced any negativity towards her decision. She said: “Nobody (at the College) batted an eyelid or has said anything negative to us about being female.

“After I left school I didn’t know what to do. Covid hit and I went into care work. I did this for two years but I knew I wanted to do something different – so I went for this plumbing and I’ve really enjoyed it.

“When I worked in the care industry, people try to put me off all the time saying plumbing is for men – but that only spurred me on.”

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