Not just for boys! How Isabella, 24, brings girl power to plumbing
- Credit: Archant
A 24-year-old who retrained as a plumber has urged schools and tradespeople to do more to encourage young women and girls into traditionally male-dominated careers.
Isabella Stagg, of Crowfield, has shown she is a rising star in the plumbing industry after reaching the national finals of the UK Heating Apprentice of the Year and the Screwfix Trade Apprentice 2020 competition - beating hundreds of other entries.
Judges praised the West Suffolk College Level Three gas engineering student, who won the South East regional award in the UK Heating Apprentice of the Year contest, for her “sheer passion for the trade” and “determination to succeed”.
Yet the former equestrian worker - who previously worked for her uncle, Alan Stagg, at Goodstagg’s Plumbing and Heating - said: “When I first started, everyone took a double take when they opened the door and thought: ‘What’s a woman doing here?’”
Isabella, who now works for Matthew Goodchild at The Felixstowe Heating Company Ltd, said that now “everyone knows me around here and I’m just one of the tradespeople” - but she believes employers in general and schools could help to encourage girls to think about different careers.
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“I think plumbing is more male-dominated - but that’s because men think about doing the job, whereas females never think about being a plumber.
“I feel like more people need to give it a go and try different things.
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“I think professional tradespeople ought to give females more of a chance and give them more experience of doing different things like this.
“I was lucky because a family member was a plumber. If I hadn’t had him, I don’t think I would’ve ever got into it.
“Personally, I think there needs to be more advertising of careers in trades in school.
“They are very good at advertising A-levels but with apprenticeships and trades, you’ll always have that experience and qualification - even if you want to go and have five years out later in your career, you can still come back to it.
“People of a younger age need to see there are careers in trades like these.”
Having studied an equine course at Easton and Otley College, Isabella had been looking for a new career after a bad experience on a horse knocked her confidence.
Taking part in the 12-week Prince’s Trust Team Programme, where 16 to 25-year-olds not in education, training or employment work together on a series of team-building activities and projects, helped rebuild her confidence.
But even though Inspire Suffolk, which runs the Team Programme, employed her as a youth support worker afterwards, she said: “It was an excellent job but it wasn’t something I wanted to do for life.”
When her uncle suggested she try plumbing, when she was aged 21, she said: “I ended up falling in love with the job.
“I don’t think there’s much I don’t like about being a plumber, you get to learn something new every day and help those in need.
“I’ve always loved fixing things ever since I was little, and I get to meet so many different people everywhere I go.
“You learn new things every day. As a youth support worker, I liked helping people. This is a completely different way of helping people but they really appreciate your help.
“It’s very rewarding.”
Her advice to anyone who is thinking of becoming a plumber is just to give it a go.
“Find a local plumber and ask: ‘Can I do some work experience?’” she said. “Just see what the job’s about.”
She also advised people to look into the courses offered by West Suffolk College and others - stressing that they are open to anyone and everyone.
“If you think there is something you might be interested in, you just have to get out there and do it otherwise you will never know,” she added.
“I never knew I wanted to be a plumber until I took up the opportunity to help out my uncle and I now never look back.”
Isabella’s lecturer at West Suffolk College, Ben Boxall, said: “Isabella is an excellent example of how a positive attitude, enthusiasm for the job and attention to detail can bring you to the top of the trade.”