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We work in a man's world; ARE SOME JOBS ONLY FOR THE BOYS? DON'T YOU BELIEVE IT. HERE WE MEET FIVE WOMEN CEMENTING THEIR FUTURES IN A MALE WORLD.

Byline: BY HELEN CARROLL

Customers are shocked to see me

TRACEY Hall, 40, is a trainee plumber who lives in Camberley, Surrey, with her husband and step-daughter Katie, 15.

'I WAS in marketing for a long time but a couple of years ago I decided I needed a career change.

Around then my step-brother, a plumber, visited and I asked if he would sort out a problem with our taps. When he identified the problem I asked him to supervise while I fixed it.

Shortly afterwards I enrolled on an NVQ course at the Building and Trade Skills Centre in Chessington. The course is part-time so I'm also running a plumbers' merchants.

Most of the customers are men and some have been so shocked to see a woman behind the counter, they've asked: 'Is there a man here?'

But most women and elderly people prefer to have a woman. They feel we're less likely to be one of those horrible bogus tradesmen.

My aim is to set up my own kitchen and bathroom-fitting business, employing female plumbers. Plumbing plays havoc with my nails so I have regular manicures, but I like to think I'm a good role model to Katie who's proud to tell her friends I'm a plumber.'

I'm treated like one of the lads

CHERYL Day, 18, is an apprentice car mechanic who works for Patterson Ford in Newcastle upon Tyne.

'I'VE always been fascinated by cars. My dad's a mechanic and I'd spend hours watching him. So when in my final year at school I was asked where I wanted to do work experience, I knew it had to be at a garage.

I must have done something to impress the bosses because soon afterwards Patterson Ford offered me an apprenticeship. I was ecstatic - it meant I wouldn't have to settle for a job in a shop. School work never interested me but I felt confident I'd be good at fixing cars.

I'm now two years into my apprenticeship and have just won a National Vocational Training Award, making me Learner of the Year. My teachers would never have believed it.

Colleagues treat me like one of the lads, not some helpless little girl. If there's any banter going down I'm likely to be the one doing the winding up - I can definitely give as good as I get. I'm completely relaxed working in a male environment and accept that the odd poster of a barebreasted woman comes with the territory. Some of the customers, however, look a little shocked at seeing me in overalls. They don't expect to find women in a garage. But when I can experience the thrill of getting a broken-down car back on the road, why would I want to do anything else?"'

I've always dreamed of driving a big truck

BRENDA Anderson, 31, is a lorry driver, divorcee and mum-of-two who lives in Fife.

'MY parents have a photo of me, aged three, standing in front of a lorry parked on our farm. I was fascinated by it and loved nothing more than sitting behind the wheel.

When I left school I went into retail but after 12 years I was bored senseless.

I'd often fantasise about driving a lorry for a living. So approaching my 30th birthday, I realised life is too short for wondering and signed up for a scheme called Women into Logistics, which helps women to become light goods vehicle (LGV) drivers.

I'm now qualified to drive a lorry of up to 40ft long that doesn't bend in the middle.

Other mums in the school playground ask how I can drive something so huge. But I drive a lorry just like I would a car, giving myself extra time to stop because it's so huge. I'll meet men, I'm sure, who think it's not an appropriate job for a woman, but I'm prepared for them.

Like most women, I enjoy getting dressed up when I go out but when I'm working I don't worry about chipping my fingernails.'

People always expect me to be butch

TAMARA Spurr, 42, is a multi-skiller (plasterer, plumber and joiner) for Wates Construction in Bradford, W Yorks, where she lives with her husband and four kids.

'WHEN my children were very young I did jobs such as catering and cleaning where I could take them along. But I've always been practical and a couple of years ago I decided to learn a proper trade.

When I heard about a college course for multi-skillers - teaching a bit about most trades - it sounded right up my street. I enrolled thinking that, if nothing else came of it, I would at least be able to do odd jobs around the house.

But I loved it and was thrilled when, at the end, Wates the housing company offered me a job. My work involves going into newly-built properties and correcting any problems with the heating, wiring, plumbing or plastering.

I've always been a bit of a tomboy so I never had any problems getting along with men, and most are very accepting of me.

It tends to be female members of the public who assume I'm the cleaner. When they find out I'm not, however, most are delighted to have a woman working on their home - they assume it means the job will be well done.

I can also be feminine and love showering off the grime at the end of the day and getting dolled up for a night out.

I'm through to the finals of a Student of the Year award and when I introduced myself to one of the spectators at a regional heat she was visibly shocked.

She said: 'You're Tamara Spurr? Wow, I expected you to be really butch!' Attitudes to women in construction need to change.'

I couldn't shuffle paper all day

LIBBY Hodgkin, 21, is a bricklayer for Persimmon Homes, where she lives in Wellingborough, Northants.

'WHEN my sister signed up with the Girl Guides I joined the Boy Scouts. And instead of playing with dolls, I spent weekends fishing and working on motorbikes.

So no one was surprised when I announced, at 16, that I wanted to train as a bricklayer.

What attracted me most was the sense of achievement you get from building something out of a pile of bricks and a bucket of cement.

I enrolled at college and within a year had an apprenticeship with Persimmon. My colleagues are all men - in fact, I've never done a single day's work with another woman.

Thankfully my boyfriend, Dan, is easy-going and doesn't worry about me spending all day with other men. At weekends I work in a pub and when new customers come in the other bar staff love to tell them about my day job.

Most of them, especially the women, think it's great. Even on the coldest days I never look at the office workers and wish I had a desk job.

I'm too busy to get cold and would go out of my mind if I had to shuffle paper all day.

For more information on jobs in the construction, log on to www.bconstructive.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

PLUMBER' MECHANIC' PLASTERER' BRICKLAYER' LORRY DRIVER' TRADING PLACES: Tracey Hall, Cheryl Day, Tamara Spurr, Libby Hodgkin and Brenda Anderson Picture: BOB POWELL
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 13, 2006
Words:1218
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