International Women’s Day: one woman’s experience as a plumber

International Women’s Day: one woman’s experience as a plumber

From lollipop lady to fixing leaking pipes, a mum of two from Devon is helping to break down barriers in the plumbing industry.

34 year old Carol Pengilly, a plumbing apprentice at South Devon College, had tried her hand at various jobs over the years before choosing plumbing as a career. 

Carol, who lives near Kingsbridge, is one of just 3,500 women working in the plumbing industry in the UK. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that in 2022 women plumbers made up just 2.5% of the industry’s workforce. 

On International Women’s Day 2024 (March 8th) it’s hoped more women will follow in Carol’s footsteps. 

Despite often being the only woman on site Carol says 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 in fact most people are interested in what she does. But she says that there is still the preconception that a plumber is a man.

“I was on site one day with a female water engineer. We were working in a building and a guy walked around the corner saying “Hi chaps” – turned the corner and said “Hi ladies.” People just assume you are male.” 

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, yet felt she needed to take her life in a new direction.  

“I just want the earning potential to take my children on holiday, maybe get some savings behind me and build a better future,” she said. “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’s plumbing journey began after helping her dad fit pipework in her grandmother’s kitchen and she hasn’t looked back. 

“I enrolled on an adult evening class Level 1 in Plumbing at South Devon College while continuing my job and it all went from there.” She then embarked 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. You have to have a good outlook on things and be resilient. 

“I wish I did it years ago.” 

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