I quit school with two GCSEs at 16 to become female construction worker – now I make £80k a year & am buying second home | The Sun
HER skin is peppered with scars from flying shards of red-hot metal, the hours are long and the work is gruelling – but welder Imogen Jones wouldn’t trade her job for the world.
The 26-year-old, from Taunton, Somerset, has spent the past decade toiling on construction sites across the UK.
But after quitting school at 16, the skilled tradeswoman is already banking £80,000 a year as she makes plans to buy her second home.
“I was warned from the outset that I’d have to put in three times the effort because I’m a woman,” says Imogen, single mum to Charlie, six.
“That’s certainly been true and the first few days on a new building site are always a challenge – but blokes soon learn what I’m about.
"The quality of my work speaks for itself.”
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Imogen is one of a tiny number of women who make up a measly one per cent of skilled construction site workers, according to Office for National Statistics data.
Research by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors also reveals how a third of women in the building trade fear sexism will stop them bagging its top jobs.
Meanwhile, studies have shown how construction is the worst industry in the UK for pay inequality, with women taking home almost a quarter less than men.
The grim statistics did little to deter Imogen, who joined a welding apprenticeship after finishing school with just two GCSEs in maths and science.
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“I played up in school and wasn’t very academic – I just couldn’t concentrate,” she says.
“I’ve always been much more hands-on. I was like a little tomboy. My dad, Lance, was a mechanic and he’d show me how to do things when he was working on cars.
“Welding was one of the best-paid trades at the time, and it's a good mechanical trade so I knew I could always earn decent money.
“But I felt silly when I first started – I was a young, 16-year-old girl covered in make-up. I really thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew.
“My mentor told me I was going to have to work harder than everyone else – he warned me I’d get the p*** taken out of me on site, and people would assume that because I was a girl, I couldn’t do anything.
“He told me I’d have to prove myself more than the bloke standing next to me. I really took that to heart and out of 12 people on my course, only me and another guy finished it.”
'The hours are crazy'
Imogen’s working day usually begins with a bleary-eyed, 4.30am wake-up.
A childminder looks after son Charlie so Imogen can be on site for 6am, and it’s often 7pm before she makes it home.
After spending the evening with Charlie and their two pet dogs she has just enough time to bag four-and-a-half hours of sleep before the alarm goes off again.
Imogen says: “The hours are crazy. I’m getting about three days off a month at the moment.
“It can be filthy, dangerous work. You can forget about having your nails done.
“I’ve singed my hair before and ended up in hospital with bits of metal in my eyes, but I love it all the same. Welding can be quite artistic when you get good at it.”
'Most of the guys are brilliant'
Imogen says she’s experienced first-hand the sexism and harassment that puts so many women off building site jobs – but insists the majority of blokes are respectful.
“Most of the guys I work with are brilliant," she explains. “The younger guys in particular look out for me and tend to stick up for me, it’s like being surrounded by lots of brothers. They respect me for the work I do on site.
“But you do get the odd creep trying it on, and at times it’s been dreadful. It often happens in the first few months of a new site.
“I’ve learned to fire back at the bigots with something that will embarrass them. The attitude is, ‘boys will be boys’.
Mica May from the Register of Tradeswomen said as many as quarter of women are interested in working in the trades.
Mica says: ““We speak to women all the time for whom a career in skilled trades is their absolute dream and they’re often heartbroken by obstacles and rejections.”
For those who do overcome the barriers, the rewards can be great.
Jeorgia Percer, 22, from Monmouth, who had to fight to to get into a brick-laying course at college after being told she should take hairdressing instead, says it's an "ace" job.
She said: “If I really grafted I could make £2,500 a week.
"You are problem-solving, using your brain, using muscles, having fun.
“I love being a brickie and would encourage young girls to join up too.”
Imogen agrees that it's a lucrative trade to be in.
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“I can pick up between £1,000-£2,000 a week,” says Imogen. “The most I’ve earned in a day is £800.
“I’m financially independent, I’ve got my own house and I’m thinking about buying a second one next year. And I’ve done it all myself.”
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