Christie's Story

Christie Steffen was born and bred in Mansfield.  After studying engineering at West Nottingham College, she secured a plumbing apprenticeship with a local construction company. WEST awarded her a £100 bursary towards equipment and travel.

Why did you decide on plumbing?

When I was growing up my dad was an engineer. I picked engineering at school because it was the most interesting of the technology subjects. It appealed to me more than food and sewing. All my life if I see something working I I always want to know – how does it work!? I have to know things inside and out.

I did engineering at school and college but then it came to doing it at university level which was a lot of work and cost a lot of money. I applied for loads of jobs and didn’t hear anything. So I thought I’m going to take a different route. My main aim is still to be an engineer; but now it’s a gas engineer.

What was it like training in a male-dominated subject?

When I was doing engineering, there were originally four girls – which was quite a shock – but two left. There was quite a lot of banter to wind you up. They would always say things like, “Why are you here – you should be doing hair and beauty,” and I’d always say, “Why shouldn’t I when I’m getting the same, if not higher grades than you!”  But I got on with everyone and the tutors were lovely.

What was it like getting the apprenticeship?

I didn’t believe it at first. This route has treated me well so far – everything I’ve put in, I’ve got out. The company has welcomed me on, and are going to put me through my level 2 and my gas qualification too. I’m very pleased with that. I’m the only female plumber out of 120.

Do you get treated differently as a female?

I don’t think anyone’s actually said anything. The only thing is that every single time I walked into a new room, they always ask questions about why did I want to come into this job because it’s dirty. And I say I don’t mind getting my hands dirty!

Some of the customers look at me for a few hours and then later on when they find out I’m training to be a plumber, they say it’s good. There was one old couple, and the woman said how nice it was to see a young lady training to be a plumber because she’s not seen that before. I thought, bless her!

I do wish there were more women in the industry, and I’d love to work with a qualified women.

What did you want to be when you were a little girl?

I always said I wanted to be a teacher when I was really young, and I even had a little box that I kept the things I would need to be a teacher in! I can still be a teacher in the future. My plumbing tutor was a plumber, and he’s teaching now to fit in with his kids. In 20 years’ time I could train up.

Apart from teaching, what are your ambitions?

My main one is to be a gas engineer, starting from the bottom and working up. I want to go out, install and service. Everyone needs heating don’t they?  I like helping people.

What did you think when you got your WEST bursary?

I was amazed! Especially after the amount of things I’ve applied for and they’ve not even got in touch. My mum and grandma were really pleased too. I’ve bought shoes and clothing for work with the bursary, and it will go towards my travel costs too.

Any advice to other girls and women thinking of training to be plumbers?

Go for it! Don’t listen to what people say – stick up for yourself and stick by what you want to do. You’ll learn a lot and it’s a good industry.