Katie Armstrong is 18 and training to be a plumber at Sheffield College. She was awarded £100 from WEST in 2014 to go towards tools, books and travel.
What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
I always wanted to be a plumber – ever since I was little! I don’t know why, I just did.
My mum works in a hospital. One of my sisters does care work in the community, and my other sister works in a school, but I always wanted to be a plumber. I’m the complete opposite to my family!
I am a bit of girly-girl. I love shopping and I love jewellery, so some people might think it’s strange that I love plumbing too. When I was at school I didn’t used to tell people that I wanted to be a plumber unless they were really close friends, I was embarrassed. Now – you know what? I’m proud to say it!
What do you like about plumbing?
I love it. Plumbing is everything to do with water, and I like looking at things and then I just want to know how they work. I was inspired by a family friend who was a plumber, and when I was 14 I did my work experience with his small family company. I did all sorts of things, and went into people’s homes. I loved it. After the two weeks were up, I couldn’t wait to go to college and do it for real.
What’s it like learning a male-dominated trade?
In my first year at college I was so scared I didn’t want to speak to anyone. There was only me and one other girl doing plumbing, and the other students were shocked to see us as they expected it to be just males.
I remember one time I was walking down the corridor and someone turned around and said to me, “are you in the right college?” I was in my second year, and I knew where I was going so I didn’t even look lost. I thought to myself, “are you being serious? Why are you even asking?!”
Now I just get on with it. They’ve accepted it now, I think. I don’t get off things easier than the males, and I wouldn’t want to because that wouldn’t be fair. But we have to work twice as hard to prove them wrong!
What are your ambitions?
I hope to get an apprenticeship and become legally qualified. Then I want to build up my clientele by working with different companies. I’d like to do a bit of gas safety and electrics too.
My ambition is probably to have my own business at some point – but I know that’s quite a hard thing to do. I am determined though, I don’t think there would be anything better. It would be a proud achievement, especially in such a typically male job, so I could prove them wrong about a woman not being able to do it! I think I can do a better job that most men. Some plumbers rip you off and give you a bad name, but I would never do that.
What did you think when you got your WEST bursary?
I was quite surprised, but really happy to get the letter to say I’d got it. I only have one living parent and that can sometimes stop you doing things you would like to do, so the bursary will help towards books and tools.
To know that someone is out there to help me and others doing male-typical jobs helps put your forward and make your dreams come true. I can’t wait to get back to college now.
Any advice for other girls and women thinking of doing plumbing?
Just believe in yourself! Don’t listen to other people who might put you down. Be really motivated and make sure you are in the job that’s right for you. It doesn’t matter if people think it’s a boy’s job or a girl’s job – as long as it’s what you want to do. And it’s never too late to change your mind.