If you could bottle enthusiasm and a passion for plumbing, you’d probably have to put Lily Clarke’s face on the label. She did her apprenticeship fifteen years ago and quickly overcame her initial misgivings about embarking on, what some at the time considered, an odd choice for an 18-year-old woman.
“I started work on Monday and was in college on Tuesday, having never held a pipe in my life,” says Lily. “Being the only girl among a group of boys was a bit intimidating at first, but I quickly realised I could do the job as well as anyone else.”
That confidence has served her well ever since. With the strong support of JTL and her boss at Integral in North London, she began passing her exams and developing robust skills that won her recognition as a valuable member of the team. “I mostly did domestic plumbing work and also gained gas experience with a gas company – the older professionals I worked with really looked after me,” she says. “I also learned to work independently on call-outs. Going out in the middle of the night on my own didn’t faze me as much as it probably should have at the time. I was just happy to be using my skills and earning the kind of money that would eventually allow me to buy my own place.”
In four years, Lily qualified as a Level 3 plumber and gas engineer and worked variously on her own, as a subcontractor for a gas company and in gas engineer recruitment before setting up her own business – Engineers of Eve – seven years ago.
But having experienced the challenges and pleasures of being an apprentice, Lily always wanted to put something back into the industry by encouraging and working with new apprentices – especially young women.
“I have to admit to being a very ‘girly’ girl who is into ballroom and Latin and was once a Go-Go dancer for a Sixties band,” laughs Lily. “There was a time when I would never have dreamed of doing an apprenticeship, and sadly I think that’s still true of a lot of young women. We’re just not encouraged to consider this kind of work, and I want that to change.”
For all these reasons, Lily chose to return to JTL as a Training Officer. She says: “I love this role, partly for the security it offers but mainly because I know how to guide and support young men and women through the learning process, how to encourage and bring out the best in them. You get to make a real difference to their learning and ultimately their lives.”
But it is the continuing scarcity of female apprentices that is increasingly shaping Lily’s vision of the future of the industry and herself. “I would like to be an ambassador for female engineers,” she explains. “Even today, I only have one female apprentice in my assessment group, and I know that we need to get out there into schools and colleges to demonstrate to young women that this is a rewarding career that they can definitely succeed in. Change will happen – but only if we make it happen.”