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- Why people who believe women can’t be engineers are wrong
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Are you planning your next move? It could be time to think about a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). In a recent survey by British Gas, 48% of young women said they had not considered STEM.
Hannah Hughes, 28, tells us why she chose an apprenticeship with British Gas, and why she loves being an engineer.
Hannah has some funny stories about being a female engineer, including the time she visited an elderly lady who was hard of sight and hearing: “She let me in and I started fixing her boiler. We were having a chat and she said to me: 'What’s your name, love?' I said: 'Hannah.' She said: 'What?' So I said: 'Hannah.' And she said: 'Hang on a minute, say that again?' So I said: 'HANNAH!' And she said: 'But that’s a girl’s name!'. I’m sorry, but I do not look like a bloke at all! She said: 'Sorry love, my eyesight’s terrible!' With stuff like that, you’ve got to laugh!”
Hannah was once refused entry by another customer, who declared: “Men shouldn’t be nurses; women shouldn’t do hard graft.” One man opened the door and just stood there, waiting for a male engineer – Hannah says she gave him “a talking to.”
In general, the reaction is overwhelmingly positive: “When I tell people what I do, they say: 'Good for you!' It can be quite inspiring.” Hannah is keen to see more women become engineers: “I don’t like stereotypes. Try it, take the challenge. There are things I struggle with sometimes, but there are ways around it.” Hannah loves the camaraderie she enjoys with fellow engineers: “You’ve got a team to support you. My boys don’t treat me like a woman; they treat me like an engineer. I get as much stick as the rest of them.”
Each morning, Hannah turns on her laptop, hits a button to request work, and conducts between five and eight visits a day. She says: “My role involves attending customers’ houses to service or repair their central heating system, to fix any problems with their radiators, hot water, pipes and gas.” Visiting people’s houses is interesting, says Hannah, “Especially if you’re thinking of buying a house – you can steal people’s ideas!”
Hannah was a born engineer: “I’ve always enjoyed taking things apart. When I was little, my dad didn’t appreciate that – me taking the TV apart and putting it back together wrong.” After dabbling in hospitality, Hannah did a part-time plumbing course, before applying for the British Gas apprenticeship scheme. She describes this as “absolutely brilliant – like going back to school, but more intelligent”. There were 13 apprentices on her course, including seven girls. Hannah says: “We were like a family. It’s a big commitment, but very rewarding.”
The best thing about her job? The people: “I love meeting customers. I meet people from different religions, countries, ethnicities. You can be the only person they talk to all week. People find it easier to talk to strangers; sometimes they want a shoulder to cry on”. Hannah reckons that this sociable aspect of the job can give female engineers an advantage: “I’ll have a little chat when I visit, and build that rapport with customers. People say: “I like you!'”
Hannah goes uncharacteristically quiet when asked what she doesn’t like about the job. After a long pause, she says: “Nothing really, as cheesy as it sounds. It is tough, but I think I am lucky to say that I am one of those people who likes going to work. If you do your job properly and safely, you’ve got a job for life. I’m happy.”
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