According to key accreditation body the Gas Safe Register, only 0.2% of registered Gas Safe heating engineers are women. And it’s a very similar percentage for OFTEC engineers too.
According to statistics, the UK has the lowest rate of female engineers in Europe.
This is a huge gender imbalance within the heating and plumbing industry. So why is the number of female heating engineers so low? And what can we do about it?
Why do we need female heating engineers anyway?
In what has historically been a male dominated industry, you might be wondering why it even matters if there aren’t many female heating engineers. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons why we should be encouraging more women to become heating engineers.
- There is no such thing as ‘blue jobs’ and ‘pink jobs’
As a society, we are starting to move away from the thinking that there are certain jobs that should be done by either men or women. When talking about getting more women into the heating and plumbing industry, the questions shouldn’t be why, but why not? There is no reason why a woman is less capable than a man when it comes to being a heating engineer.
- The industry needs more engineers
Male or female, the heating industry needs more engineers in general. So why not more women? The Gas Safe Decade Review identified this industry to have an ageing workforce. With half of the current workforce due to retire in the next decade, now would be a great time to encourage school leavers to consider this as a career option.
- Why start in this industry now when we’re facing imminent renewable energy changes?
Yes, there is a lot of talk about heat pumps and other more renewable sources of energy to heat our homes. But many of these options work alongside traditional energy sources like gas boilers. They won’t be replaced overnight, and heating engineers will still need knowledge of them for considerable years to come. Deciding to join the heating industry would still be a career option for life, even if embarking on it now.
- Offer customers what they want, but can’t get
There’s a gap in the market when it comes to female heating engineers. Many people, not just female customers, would choose to hire a woman to work in their homes if given the option. Two thirds of of the general population wouldn’t mind whether a tradesperson was male or female, and nearly half would actively like to support someone working in a ‘non-traditional’ role according to a recently study from the Federation of Master Builders. Of the women surveyed, they said they would prefer a female heating engineer because they would feel safer, they believed they would be more respectful, and thought a woman would have higher attention to detail. At the end of the day, it comes down to who has the skills and expertise for the job – Regardless of gender.
- The gender pay gap
It’s thought that bringing more women into skilled trades would help to close the gender pay gap through things like apprenticeship schemes. There are more female apprentices in areas like social care, childcare and hairdressing than construction and engineering. The difference in salaries between these sectors is almost £10k. Research shows that women are more likely to take up apprenticeships in lower paid sectors, perhaps based on established perceptions of male and female occupations. Perceptions that need to be challenged!
What’s stopping female school leavers from applying for heating engineer apprenticeships?
As we’ve just said, there are perceptions of male and female occupations that need to be challenged and changed. The best place to do this seems to be during the school years and showing female school leavers that they have the same apprenticeship opportunities as male.
Worryingly, gender perceptions on job roles are acquired at a very early age. Recruitment company Michael Page found that out of 100 children’s drawings, 81% drew nurses as female and 88% drew builders as male.
This means that a child’s future career ambitions can be limited from when they are still very young. This is why it is so important for the media, entertainment industries and people and parents in general need to commit to presenting careers as gender neutral as possible. We need to try and diversify the female role models that young people see so that it’s not just the perceptions of children that are challenged, but their parents too.
Would you encourage your daughter into a trade role?
Common Misconceptions about the Role of a Heating Engineer
It would seem that some people have a certain perception of those working in trade industries. These jobs actually need to attract high quality candidates with high levels of intelligence and creative thinking with the ambition and drive to constantly commit to their own ongoing training and development.
It’s not easy to train to be a heating engineer. Not only do you need the technical skills to be able to pass the exams and do the job, but you also need the communication skills to provide excellent customer service plus creative thinking to problem solve under pressure.
What are the barriers to women entering trade roles?
A survey from WaterSafe found that 24% of 2000 women were not advised to take up a trade whilst at school, and 38% said if they had the chance to begin their career again they would choose to take up a trade to offer more stability.
So what’s stopping women going down the trade route?
It could be a confidence thing. Hewlett Packard shared the results of an internal report, where they found that women would only apply for a new job or promotion when they met 100% of the criteria, compared to men who went for it if they met just 60%. Zenger Folkman, a leadership company, reported similar findings when they reported that the confidence levels of 20 to 30 year old women was much lower than men of the same age. This lack of confidence at a time in their life when they may be embarking on a career path or considering a change could be a limiting factor for getting more women into the trade workforce.
It could also be the perception that the trade industry is a ‘man’s world’. Whilst some women could find it appealing to blaze a trail in a male dominated industry, it seems to be the opposite and actually act as a deterrent. The lack of gender diversity in trade roles certainly appears to be a concern, as does the risk of facing sexism on a regular basis. Women already working within the industry as heating engineers or similar speak of having developed a thick skin.
What are the benefits of becoming a heating engineer?
There are many benefits to securing a role within the heating industry.
- It offers a competitive salary. As an apprentice you would likely start on around £15k PA which would then rise to between £25k and £35k once qualified. Highly experienced engineers could find themselves earning in the vicinity of £50k.
- It offers flexible hours. Many heating engineers choose their own hours – Especially if they are self-employed. You can choose when and where you work, which can be great when working around other commitments.
- It’s a stable career. Once you are qualified, the role of a heating engineer offers long-term career options. The longer you work in the role, the more expertise you will acquire – All you need to do is continue to be registered on the Gas Safe register.
- It offers variety and challenge. Every day is different! You will be mentally and physically challenged on a daily basis, using your knowledge of maths and science as well as manual skills and customer service.
What needs to be done?
Children need to see a range of careers represented by both genders in their everyday life. Not only that, but school students must always be presented with career opportunities according to their interests, ambitions and abilities rather than gender.
Women who express an interest in engineering and construction should be given the opportunities to explore those interests during their school career and then within apprenticeships.
Anyone who wants a stable, fulfilling and hands-on career could and should consider a role in the heating profession.
This article from Boiler Guide has lots more information, including the experiences of women currently working in the industry themselves.