Getting a head start

Jade Richardson chose plumbing over beauty therapy before moving into smart metering. She tells us how her apprenticeship helped her career get a head start ahead of her friends.

“Doing my apprenticeship gave me a head start.”

I’ve always been quite hands on. I remember a time when my aunt and my uncle were arguing over putting up a tent in the garden and I just walked over and did it. I put up a nine man tent on my own with no instructions. That’s when I knew I wanted to work with my hands.

Beauty therapy and plumbing

I was doing a beauty therapy course and there was a plumbing course on a different day. My Great Grandma had someone come into her house once pretending to be a plumber and actually robbed her, and I thought it might make people like my Great Grandma feel more relaxed if they saw it was a female plumber coming to fix something. So I gave it a go.

The great thing about plumbing is you’re not just sitting in one place all day. When you’re studying you’re out and about all the time, going to different houses, looking at different scenarios. It’s all about problem solving too, you’re constantly using your brain.

One of the lads

I’ve been the only girl the whole way through my studies. I did two years of Level 2 NVQ plumbing, two years of Level 3 and then when I went to my first job after the apprenticeship, I was the only girl there as well. It doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I found the atmosphere better on my plumbing course than on my beauty therapy course! My colleagues treat me the same as they treat each other, I’m one of the lads. They’ve never looked at me and thought ‘oh that’s heavy,’ they’re just like ‘yep, crack on Jade,’ and I like that. I don’t want to be treated any differently because I’m a woman.

After that I moved from plumbing into smart metering. Metering is great because doing it gives you not just one trade, but two trades (gas and electricity) for life. Not only that, but you get to work as part of a team of amazing people in a supportive environment, and you get to develop your career twice as fast. All the new smart meters need to be installed by 2020, so the installation will be a bit of a challenge, but a meter is a meter at the end of the day.

Getting a head start

A lot of my friends went to university and studied for different careers. In the time it took for them to complete their studies and job hunt, I had been working my way up the career ladder in my industry and was earning good money. Some of my friends are working towards being a manager now and I’m three steps up from that already. Doing my apprenticeship gave me a head start.

I’m a technical specialist now, which means it’s my job to help meter engineers who are having a problem whilst on call. It could be that they don’t have the right part to do the job, or that they don’t know what to do. My job is to help them, either by going over there or by using FaceTime, photographs and phone calls to solve it with them.

I also deal with complaint jobs, so for example if something’s gone wrong on a job it’s my responsibility to go and fix it for a customer. If one of the engineers is running late or is sick, I’ll jump in there, too. There’s no such thing as a typical day for me, it’s a bit of everything, but I get to help people which I love doing. I love being able to use my brain and help the engineers as well as the customers.

Making a real difference

I received a ’Going the Extra Mile’ award recently from my company, Morrison Utility Services, when I had a routine call out for metering. I went to an elderly man’s house and discovered he’d been living without gas or electricity for 29 years. All he had was a little candle and a battery operated radio, and it was freezing - it was January. I called my office to cancel my next job and then got on the phone to the local housing association and Age UK. The housing association wasn’t aware that he was living without power or gas, and they agreed to send over an electrician as soon as they could. In the meantime, I worked with Age UK to get the man into a hotel. I’m not allowed to take customers in my work van so I drove the van home, picked up my own car, and then came back to take him to the hotel. I helped him check in and made sure he was looked after.

Once I’d helped direct the electrician (who needed to rewire the whole house) I fitted a new electric meter for him and changed all his light bulbs, so they would definitely work. It’s one of those times that makes you realise what a difference you can make. It was just a routine meter appointment, I didn’t know what I was walking into and he didn’t know I was coming. It was just a blind-booked appointment, but I was able to make a real difference and help someone vulnerable who might not have asked for help.

It’s no dirtier than tanning!

If I had to give any advice to women wanting to do what I do, I’d tell them it’s not a man’s industry. A lot of women might think it’s a dirty job, but it’s no dirtier than bikini waxes or tanning! You won’t come home stinking and greasy. Sure, the uniform might not be attractive but there are people who save lives in hospitals and their uniform isn’t attractive either!

One thing that’s definitely helpful is having a driving licence. For trades likes smart metering you need to be mobile, so you need a licence. Some people might not consider this, so my advice would be to focus on this as soon as possible.

I’ve done it with two kids, so it can definitely be done. We’re equal and we need women out in the field.

Find out more about ApprenticeshipsMorrison Utility Services, or read more on Jade's journey in smart metering. If you're thinking about applying for an apprenticeship, view our tips on how to ace your application and visit our Current Vacancies page.