As a gas service engineer for EMCOR UK, Lorna Jack has got used to the fact that at least once a day she is met with surprise that she is a female engineer. This expectation of course reflects the reality that female gas engineers are still quite a rarity, but this is beginning to change.
Jack’s curiosity in plumbing and gas services was sparked at a young age when she was visiting her grandmother and an engineer came to fix the boiler and she was intrigued by how he took it apart and put it all back together again. This interest continued and led to her doing some work experience with a local plumber when she was still at school.
After leaving school at 16, she was keen to undertake a plumbing apprenticeship but it proved difficult to find a local company that would facilitate this, so she approached the plumber she had done her work experience with and he agreed to take her on as an apprentice.
Commenting on the apprenticeship, Jack said: “An apprenticeship is a great way of learning as it is a combination of practical on the job training – in my case learning skills first-hand from a plumber – supported by learning about the theory at college.”
Following her apprenticeship, Jack set up her own plumbing and heating business and then became an assessor for plumbing apprenticeships. However, realising that she missed the practical work, in 2017, she joined EMCOR UK, a leading provider of facilities, asset and workplace management services, as a gas service engineer and began working for one of its customers, Lancaster City Council’s housing department.
Lancaster City Council is the landlord for thousands of residential properties and, as with all rented residential property, it is a legal requirement for each property to undertake and pass an annual gas check. As well as providing maintenance services, the council is responsible for remedial and emergency work to be completed as necessary.
The main scope of Jack’s role is to carry out maintenance and repairs on gas appliances in residential properties including boiler services and rectifying faults where required to ensure that all gas appliances are safe. A typical day will involve visits to between six to 10 residential properties.
“I find it really rewarding that I am providing a service which keeps people safe in their homes. I know that it is critical to ensure that all my gas checks and boiler services are thorough as the consequences of not doing my job effectively are so serious.
“Experience has helped me to identify many faults quickly and easily but I enjoy that I continue to learn as new issues arise that I need to identify and fix and I like the challenge of this aspect of my job.”
WORKING THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
During the pandemic, annual checks for rented properties have continued to be a legal requirement and the deadlines were not extended and so this service – together with emergency work – still needed to be carried out.
“At a time when health and safety has been such a major concern for everyone, it was crucial that I – and my colleagues – continued to do our jobs to ensure that the tenants remained safe especially as so many people were spending so much more time at home and using their boilers and gas appliances more frequently.
“However, although I recognised how important my role was, it was daunting as it meant being inside many different properties every day which increased the risk of contracting the virus. Some tenants also were nervous of having an engineer in the house and it could be difficult if tenants did not follow guidelines, such as wearing masks and social distancing, as I’d have to ask them to do so which at times could be awkward especially as I was in their home. I am pleased that, because of the service I provide, I have been able to have my first vaccine.
“Despite these challenges, there was one new aspect of my job which I found especially rewarding and this was that I was providing some company and social interaction for tenants who were living on their own and who had not been able to see many people in lockdown. They would thank me for servicing the boiler or carrying out a gas check but also express how pleased they were to see someone and have a chat.”
Gas engineers are mostly male and although often surprised to open the door to a female engineer, this is welcomed by many tenants – especially female tenants who live alone – and many female customers request Lorna Jack specifically when they need any maintenance or remedial work carried out.
“It is still a male dominated profession but there is no reason why this should be the case. It is important that apprenticeships and training programmes are targeted at both men and women. One of the reasons I enjoy working for EMCOR is that it is an organisation that encourages and supports women to progress in the workplace and to pursue careers in areas that traditionally are male dominated.
“I’m sure for many women being a gas engineer is not a career that they have considered but I find it is a very fulfilling job. I like meeting many different people every day – and their dogs if they have one – and using my specialist skills to provide an essential service which helps keep them safe and well in their homes. It is busy and stimulating while I am at work but I don’t have to take the work home with me which means I can relax and enjoy my home life.”