Women in the heating industry – why aren’t there more?

Of more than 9,000 OFTEC registered technicians, fewer than 30 are female.
Perhaps some readers will be surprised it’s even that many, whilst others will feel, like OFTEC, that the number should be much higher. Particularly given the shortage of skilled heating engineers, it’s perhaps disappointing that more women haven’t seen the many potential advantages of this career choice – especially those that are not inspired by the thought of office work!

According to a recent survey of 2,000 people by the Federation of Master Builders, nearly two-thirds of the general public do not have a preference as to whether a tradesperson is male or female, but 35% of women favoured hiring females for numerous reasons, such as the perception that they might be more respectful of their homes (51%) or have better attention to detail than men (30%). 42% of female respondents also said they might feel more at ease with a female tradesperson, while 46% claimed that they wished to support women working in non-traditional jobs.

However, despite this overwhelming public support for female tradespeople, fewer than 30% would encourage their own daughters to pursue a similar career.

A major barrier…
Various campaigns to encourage women into the industry have been launched, including WaterSafe’s ‘Get Girls Plumbing’, but the fact remains that a recent YouGov survey of over 2,000 respondents still shows a lack of gender diversity as being a major barrier to women entering the electrical and plumbing industries. In fact, the survey showed that 53% of women aged 18-24 are put off careers in these sectors because of these concerns. A mere 2% of women surveyed had considered careers as plumbers or electricians compared to 15% of men.

OFTEC has spoken to a number of female registered technicians to find out more about their experiences in the industry. All reported that their experience since joining the heating trade had been broadly positive and would encourage more women to take up the tools. Some decided to join the family business, but others had pursued different careers before changing tack and re-training as heating engineers.

Regular clients…
They all tell a similar story – customers are often surprised when a female technician arrives to carry out the work, assuming if they’ve spoken over the phone that they are the office person! However, Anna said most customers have been really encouraging and many have gone on to become regular clients – a sure sign that they are happy with the service.

Emily has even learnt that some of her female customers might have followed a similar career had things been different when they were younger! Tania has been told that it’s great for the children to see women doing a job that is ‘out of the ordinary’ and reported that many of her customers feel more comfortable having a female heating technician in their homes!

Well supported…
When it comes to training, whichever route they have taken – on the job, through an apprenticeship scheme or with a heating oil company – all our respondents say that they have been extremely well supported. In fact, although Emily would have preferred to have been able to share her experiences with another female apprentice, she was still inspired by her lecturer to become a gas and oil heating engineer!

There are still some barriers to overcome. For example, there is still a feeling that women need to prove themselves more than their male counterparts to be taken seriously – such as being asked for proof of registration more frequently – but the fact that the bookings keep coming in is testament to the quality of their work. Most women OFTEC surveyed enjoy the flexibility of working for themselves or for a small family business, which fits in well with family life.

Year of Engineering
Clearly there is still much work to be done to redress the balance and let’s hope that the outreach work and events to be held in this ‘Year of Engineering’ will encourage more women to work in heating and plumbing as well as following other engineering pathways.

None of our respondents felt that their schools had encouraged them towards the heating trade and feel quite strongly that more could be done in schools by inviting female engineers to talk to pupils.

According to statistics from the Institute of Engineering and Technology, fewer than 10% of the UK’s engineers are women – the lowest percentage in Europe. This will need to increase if government objectives for the engineering industry are to be realised.

Thank you to Hollie of Hollie’s Heating Services, Tania from ATP heating, Emily from Highland Rose Plumbing and Heating and all our other contributors for your insights

This entry was posted in Industry News.

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