Plumbing apprentice Carol Pingilly in front of a hot water cylinder, holding spanner, and wearing a black jacket with the Gas Safe Register logo

From lollipop lady to plumbing apprentice

A mum of two from Devon is helping to break down barriers in the plumbing industry. Carol Pengilly is a 34-year-old plumbing apprentice at South Devon College who tried her hand at various jobs – including being a lollipop lady – before deciding on a career as a plumber.

Carol is one of just 3,500 women working in the plumbing industry in the UK, accounting for 2.5% of the industry’s workforce, according to ONS figures. She says she is often the only woman on site and she enjoys the social side of the job. “I love it. The blokes are easy to talk to and we have a lot of fun. I like a brand new site day, when everything is covered in mud and you are trying to pull pipes through chest-height trenches and wrestling them through. I feel like I have achieved something.”

Carol says she hasn’t come across any discrimination and most people are interested in what she does. But she says that there is still the preconception that a plumber is a man. She says her main challenge is often finding a loo. “When I’m on site and the Portaloo hasn’t turned up, then I have to find a public toilet and sometimes I can be gone for 20 minutes.”

Over the years, Carol had done a variety of jobs, from night-time security and school kitchen staff to school crossing patrol and caretaker, but she wanted to take her life in a new direction. “I want the earning potential to take my children on holiday, maybe get some savings behind me and build a better future,” she says. “My partner Robbie has been one of my biggest supporters and I want to continue in the industry and see where it takes me.”

Carol enrolled on an adult evening class Level 1 in plumbing at South Devon College while continuing with her previous job, then started on a Level 2 course, which led to an apprenticeship with family-run M L Eden & Son in Blackawton. Now she’s doing her gas engineering course.

Day-to-day Carol says her job is extremely varied, from working on a building site, to calls-outs and leaky loos. “You need to push yourself and be determined. I would say to anyone thinking about training to be a plumber: go for it. If you find someone to give you a chance, it’s a win-win.

“I wish I’d done it years ago.”

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