Written by Jerry Whiteley, Technical Manager CIPHE
When we first heard about HIP’s Female Skills Competition, we leapt at the chance to support it.
The job of a plumbing and heating engineer has for too long been seen as a male-dominated role. This view of our industry is reinforced by advice given to young people in school. One in four women say that careers in trades were never discussed with them at school — this was discovered when researched for the WaterSafe ‘Get Girls Plumbing’ campaign back in 2015. Judging by the January 2023 Government-led Heating and Cooling Installer Study not much has changed — the study reveals that less than 5% of the industry workforce is female.
The industry need to wake up to the fact that times have moved on, and today’s society demands greater diversity, with role models required for everyone to help break down barriers. Our industry is an incredible showcase of skills and knowledge, rewarded with good pay and longevity, and these benefits should be available to all.
The HIP Female Skills Competition brings women to the forefront, highlighting that change is occurring, and happening in a supportive environment.
The competition was formed of two heats, the first taking place at Harrow College, London, and the second at York College. Both featured 12 female candidates from diverse backgrounds. Competitors also came from a variety of learning environments, including apprenticeships, study programmes and self-funded career change programmes.
The challenge they were set was no mean feat - to pipe up a Viessmann boiler, connect a radiator with pipework that had crossovers and offsets in the 22mm pipe run.
Competitors then had to connect a hot and cold-water supply to a Grundfos shower booster pump and back out to the shower, including various bends simulating scenarios you would find in a customer property. As an aside, being from the CIPHE, it was great to see the support given to the competition by such prominent Industrial Associate Supporters of ours.
The whole task included completing a range of jointing, including press-fit, Tectite and soldering, all to industry standards.
Having spent many years as a college tutor, I have seen many learners struggle to bend 22mm copper tube and even experienced installers shy away from pipe bending, but these candidates were certainly not afraid of getting stuck in and deliver highly impressive results.
The work achieved by the group was fantastic to witness and judge, and was a great affirmation that talent, dedication and a commitment to learning are the attributes needed to achieve success.
I always love to chat with competitors, to find out a bit of background on them and why they chose plumbing as a career. There undoubtedly still remains elements of preconditioning and stereotyping about roles that make it more difficult for females to challenge preconceived opinion about what they should and could be doing with their careers, but competitions like HIP Female Skills will have a lasting effect in challenging those negative factors.
I will long remember one candidate who told me how she was balancing a career change, looking after a young child, and attending both training and work experience. How many of us can honestly say we could do that?
We selected the best three competitors from each heat to take through to the grand final which took place at Loughborough College on Thursday, March 30th.
The competition is sponsored by many of the biggest names in the industry, including Grohe, Viessmann boilers, Aalberts IPS, Grundfos, Kingspan, Wolseley Plumb & Parts, Talon, Stelrad, Scruffs, Yorkshire Copper Tube and WD-40.
This event will provide a basis for encouraging other females who can see likeminded people doing something extraordinary while refusing to conform to someone else’s expectations for them.
As one competitor put it so succinctly: “It is so surprising and refreshing to be part of a larger group of likeminded females for the first time”.
Reaching the final was a huge achievement for all competitors. The task set was different from that within the heats, but it was testing very similar skills. Of course, there was also the added pressure of working whilst a large audience of industry people was watching, but all in attendance had great admiration for those who took part and could see how hard they worked. For me, it was noticeable how much more confident everyone was and how much preparation and practicing had taken place. I hope that the biggest thing to come out of this for all of the competitors is the importance of planning in how to advance a career and the motivation that comes from being able to this experience. As far as I could see, there’s nothing to hold anyone of them back from being outstanding in their professional lives.
The competition prizes are phenomenal. The winner will go to Lisbon with Grohe for three days as well as receive an iPad, and much, much more. But it is all about enjoying the moment when proving that you are really good at what you do and knowing there are always benefits when wanting to excel!
I don’t think I can add anything more to that!