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Anne Boyle wishes the new Women in Plumbing initiative was around when she was an apprentice plumber in her native UK. Only announced last month, Kathryn Kernohan investigates the need for this important plumbing program.
“It would have been so good just to be able to see that I wasn’t alone being a woman in the plumbing industry,” Anne Boyle tells API magazine. “Something like this just normalises it. It helps girls and women to realise that there are many career pathways in the construction industry, and it gives them the support they need to succeed.”
Earlier this year Anne joined Master Plumbers as a Field Officer primarily involved in the new Women in Plumbing program, which was recently announced as one of 10 new initiatives funded by the Victorian Government to remove barriers faced by women wanting to start a rewarding career in traditionally male-dominated trades like plumbing, electrical and aviation.
While there have been efforts to increase the number of female plumbers, only about 1 per cent of employees in the plumbing industry are women, according to the National Skills Commission’s Job Outlook website.
Women in Plumbing is a Master Plumbers and Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria (PAV) initiative that will support female students, apprentices, and plumbers at every step of their journey, including providing paid pre-apprenticeships, direct entry to Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria (Master Plumbers Group Training Organisation) and an array of networking, mentoring, training, and social opportunities.
“My job is to target careers advisors, teachers, schools and LLENs (Local Learning and Employment Networks) so that they have the right information to provide to female students who may be considering a career in a trade but don’t know where to begin.”
Anne’s own journey starting with a plumbing apprenticeship at age 16, travelling throughout Europe and a decade-long detour working in hospitality management.
After relocating to Australia, she decided to return to her first passion and is thrilled that she can help support the career pathways of the next generation of female plumbers.
“I feel like this is my calling as I can relate to what these women are going through - from leaving school to start a trade, to doing an apprenticeship, to being the only woman among 200 men working on a site. Being able to use my experience and my knowledge is so rewarding.”
Mechanical plumber Stephanie Burke says having access to a network of female plumbers to provide support and advice will be invaluable.
“My best friend is a plumber and we’ve been friends since we were 12. We’ve always had each other but to have a group of female friends, all thriving in the same industry, would be awesome.
“That support network is really important. I’ve had tough times during my apprenticeship, such as sexism and bullying. When I was in the middle of it, I needed someone I could talk to, who I knew would listen to me. Making those types of networks available would make things much easier.”
Stephanie says that educating school leavers about the types of jobs available in the plumbing industry - a key goal of the Women in Plumbing initiative - will also break down barriers.
“A lot of people don’t realise how many different sectors there are in the industry, they just think plumbing means you work with toilets and sewerage every day. Making that information available will help give other women the knowledge they need to consider a career in this industry.”
Second-year apprentice Amy Hutchinson agrees.
“To me, it is incredibly important for people to realise that they can literally do anything and gender bias in a career needs to be completely eradicated. It’s one thing to talk about helping women but it’s another to actually do it and that’s what is happening here,” she says.
Amy comes from a family of male plumbers and says it took her a while to realise she wanted to follow in their footsteps.
“It wasn’t until just after COVID hit when I decided it was time to put the boots on and give it a go. I was lucky enough to get a job with Tullamarine Plumbing and Drainage and I feel that I’m finally somewhere I can see myself for a very long time.”
Her passion for supporting women in the industry extends to having created Stokes Lane Workwear, which will launch in coming months, and feature a range of items designed to fit women’s body shapes.
Natalie Reynolds, Master Plumbers’ General Manager Business Development & Operation, says Women in Plumbing builds on the work Master Plumbers is doing every day.
“We know that women can make great plumbers and already have the runs on the board here at PAV to prove it. Now it is time to amplify our impact and enable more women to succeed in this rewarding career.”
Anne says Women in Plumbing will support everybody from school leavers through to women who are established in other careers and looking for a change.
“We want every woman to know that it’s never too late to get involved. We are also excited about being able to connect with our growing network face to face now that lockdowns have eased.”