Me&MyJob: Giving new meaning to domestic goddess
Ciara Walls, Apprentice Plumber, Fusion Heating
What does your job entail?
I am a plumbing apprentice but my job requires me to be versatile. Our firm works mostly with heating systems in domestic properties so we must recognise key features of different heating systems; troubleshoot and recognise when something has gone faulty; and to remove or replace as necessary.
We also carry out servicing on boilers - both oil and gas and I’m learning to be a domestic energy assessor - so I will be producing energy performance certificates in domestic properties for sale or to rent. Although on paper I'm a plumber, we have to be multi-skilled tradespeople to fit in with the work that is on the market.
Is it 9-5?
On paper, our hours are nine to five, but we work overtime when necessary. You can't leave a customer with no heating - one job has to be finished before moving on to the next. One good aspect within our company is that everyone supports each other; so if you are under pressure you can call for help from the other staff and if they are free and able, they will lessen the burden for you. We get paid for overtime so it’s not that bad!
How did you get into this line of work?
I was originally doing a degree in Architecture but I decided to re-train in something more practical though still within the built environment as I found it very interesting. Once I had set my mind on it, I focused on getting a job and securing a place within the college.
Outline your career to date?
I started plumbing NVQ Level 2 in Belfast Metropolitan College in October 2007. I got my first apprenticeship place within WOMEN’STEC’s social economy business TradesWomenNI. WOMEN’STEC offers a great variety of non-traditional skills training for women such as plumbing, tiling, joinery and electrical work. Anyone considering a career like this should really give it a try.
I joined Fusion Heating in May 2008. I took a year’s break in November 2008 after the birth of my second child but returned to finish my NVQ Level 3 in college and sat both oil and gas exams since then. I have been guaranteed a job after my apprenticeship.
Tell us about your qualifications/ training.
I sat three A-levels in grammar school - two of which were practical subjects. I have achieved OFTEC oil exams and GAS SAFE exams (installation, meter work etc.).
What qualities are required for your job - personal and professional?
You have to be a real ‘people-person'. We deal with the public everyday and we are entering their very personal spaces, so we need to be respectful and understanding to different people's circumstances.
Some people are very ill, others are very poor. The job has opened my eyes a lot to the poverty that exists in our city. Elderly people may not have had a visitor in six months until I arrive so I try and be open to conversation and a bit of craic.
What is the best advice you ever received?
To treat others as you would like to be treated; and to be polite even if it is through gritted teeth sometimes!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to go shopping and walking down by the shore near where I live. My spare time is precious to me as my children spend so much time in childcare so it's usually geared towards bringing them out for the day and having some fun, which is fine because I'm a big kid at heart anyway.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I have played classical music since the age of 6 and I'm Grade Eight standard on the piano.
Who has inspired you most in your life?
I've been inspired by many people in my life.
My dad — for overcoming his physical disability and achieving so much in the short life he had. And for the many people he helped through his charity work. He was a real gentleman.
I met a lady called Maria Clarke who started out as a plasterer and now runs her own business, Classic Walls, and employs 20 people.
She was made a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) - the first woman in Ireland and one of only 10 women worldwide to attain this standard.
The first lady plumber I met was Jackie Hamilton. She had got into plumbing a long time ago when it was extremely difficult to be taken seriously in the construction industry.
She now teaches plumbing, electrics and tiling in WOMEN’STEC