A budding entrepreneur and role model for women in the trades – at the tender age of just 21, Nicola Butcher is already packing a considerable list of achievements into a comparatively brief professional career.
Now, following a nationwide search, the Stevenage-based carpenter can add the accolade of being crowned Irwin’s Ultimate Tradesperson to her successes.
“Quite a few customers nominated me for the competition through Facebook,” explains the Hertfordshire chippie. “It was a surprise just to be a finalist but to go to the event in Birmingham and actually win it was unbelievable.”
Over the course of just over a year, Nicola has been balancing the demands of establishing her fledgling business, The Female Carpentry Company, with visiting colleges, where she has been extolling the virtues of the building industry to young women who may not have considered the trades as a viable option. It was that dual role, together with her commitment to her chosen trade, that attracted the judges’ attention.
We asked Nicola how she has adjusted to the responsibility of being her own boss with relatively little experience of the working world to call upon?
“I’d been working for a sole trader in Stevenage and, as well as the site work, I was doing a lot of the estimating and invoicing for him. It was then that I thought if can do this for someone else I can definitely do it for myself – so here I am.”
“From my own experience I know that far more women would take to the tools if they only gave it a go. I was home educated, and had no family in the trades, but found myself at bit of a loose end when I left school.
“After a spell with a carpentry firm as work experience I discovered I loved it and started an apprenticeship when I was 16 – since then I simply haven’t looked back. I certainly won’t pretend it’s easy starting out on your own – just the investment in a van and all the tools you’ll need is considerable – but it’s definitely rewarding.”
Part of the Irwin Ultimate Tradesperson Prize will be the funding for an apprentice for the duration of 2017, which will give Nicola the opportunity to pass on her own experience, as well as the not inconsiderable sum of £5,000 to invest in her business.
“Some of the money will certainly go to paying the Festool kit that I’ve already acquired, but I’m probably most looking forward to taking on a trainee. I’ve already been speaking to the Apprenticeship Programme Manager at my local college, and given that it’s the Female Carpentry Company, I would like to take on another girl so it fits with the brand.”
There are some trades, like painting and decorating, for instance, which can boast a growing female contingent, but overall Nicola’s career choice remains a path less trodden by her gender.
Indeed, during her apprenticeship, the Irwin award winner was herself the only female member of her class. “It’s always a talking point but the acid test is always going to be whether you can do the job, and once they realise that’s the case it’s usually fine.
All of my work is internal second fix, which means I’m dealing directly with the homeowner and I have found that in some circumstances they actually feel more comfortable having a woman around the house. If there are a few other guys around you just have to give as good as you get and the novelty factor soon wears off.”
That’s the positive message that Nicola has been taking into schools and colleges and she is convinced that her example can inspire others: “At 21 I’m running my own business, have no university fees to pay off and am earning decent money. Not only that but we’re so desperately short of new entrants to the construction industry that I don’t think we can afford to ignore half the population any longer.”
For further information on The Female Carpentry Company can be found on the company’s Facebook page at facebook.com/thefemalechippy
For further information on Irwin Tools click here.