Bright spark Bickley apprentice giving women a voice on building sites
PUBLISHED: 12:06 17 July 2013 | UPDATED: 12:06 17 July 2013
Building sites can be a constant thorn in the side of any woman unfortunate enough to be heckled from scaffolding.
They’re stereotypically male-dominated spaces, where discarded hard hats and jeans in need of a belt are more common sights than a woman at work.
But for 20-year-old Rachael Neville it is her daily grind.
The apprentice electrician, from Bickley, left the classroom behind after gaining As and Bs in her AS-levels at Hayes School, in West Common Road, and was immediately attracted by a hands-on career path.
She now finds herself an ambassador for JTL, which trains apprentices in the building and engineering sectors, and a fortnight ago delivered a speech at the House of Commons encouraging women to take up a trade.
Rachael is urging women to follow her lead and challenge stereotypes, aiming to open up industries where women are few and far between.
She said: “People tend to stay away because it’s so male dominated. It can be daunting on site, but there are no rules to say women aren’t allowed.
“I have only met one other woman on site and she said it was really nice to see me working.”
Based at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex, Rachael recently finished her third year of training at North West London College and will spend her final year on site.
She says university and an office job were not an attractive option and she opted for a career where she could use her hands.
“I’m quite a hands-on person”, she says. “I think I’d get very bored quite quickly in an office, and what I like about this job is that it’s always different.
“It’s not just putting lights up. You learn every day and guys who have been on sites for 10 years tell me they’re still learning.”
Rachael is something of a rarity but despite one sour incident says she is treated well by the men she works alongside who tend to be on their best behaviour when she is around.
She added: “There’s only been one incident in the past three years when someone has said something horrible to me.
“He was an old bloke who told me I should be making his tea. I put him in his place.”
Confidence is not lacking from Rachael, although she admits nerves took hold of her a little when she addressed MPs in Westminster – including Labour leader Ed Miliband who “popped his head around” to hear what she had to say.
Her speech encouraged politicians to let her and fellow ambassadors visit schools, where she feels apprenticeships are seen as a last resort and neglected by teachers.
“My experience is that schools focus on telling people to aim for university, but that’s not the answer for everyone.
“Apprenticeships are seen as an afterthought, but I think they’re actually harder because you’re working with your hands as well as doing class work.”
Rachael may be a unique figure on most building sites, but aims to make a difference for women in the industry.
Her hope for the future is that women will at least consider jobs like plumbing, carpentry and engineering as options whether or not they pursue them.
“One of the other ambassadors works in Wales and actually gets a lot of customers because she’s a woman and other women prefer her being in their home.
“There are opportunities for women on sites and in all kinds of jobs, so I just hope I can encourage people to try being hands-on.”
For more on apprenticeships offered by JTL, visit jtltraining.com.