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Jobs for the Girls

Sonya Warren, SELECT Chairwoman for Inverness and North of Scotland, on why more women should be encouraged into the industry

A TOP female figure in Scotland’s electrical industry is calling for a boost of girl-power to light up the trade.

Sonya Warren, SELECT’s Inverness and North of Scotland chairwoman, says the sector would “benefit immensely” from more female electricians, insisting: “It’s not just a job for the boys.”

And if anyone knows what it’s like to be a woman in this traditionally male-dominated industry, Sonya does. She and husband Alan have been running their Buckie-based electrical design firm, Gateway Control Systems, for almost two decades.

“I have learned so much since we set up the company in 1997,” she said. “Alan is a trained electrician but my background is in computer programming. So I used to go out on jobs with Alan and he taught me how to wire sockets, run cables and connect things up. I loved getting involved. I didn’t feel out of place being a woman. There is a real lack of female electricians in Scotland and I’d love to see more women enter the trade.”

Gateway Control Systems – which won Best Environmental Project at the SELECT Awards in 2014 – currently employs 17 electricians. The company also takes on two apprentices per year who are trained through courses run by the Scottish Electrical Charitable Trust (SECTT). But the couple are yet to encounter a female applicant.

“It’s always boys, never girls,” added Sonya. “It’s a pity there isn’t more female interest in the apprenticeships. In the last few years, however, we have had a couple of girls come in on work experience placements, who have gone on to work in the industry. One of the girls now works offshore for Shell. The other is working in the computer programming part of the industry. Both are doing extremely well and are thoroughly enjoying their careers.”

The mum-of-three and Buckie councillor feels strongly that many young people – male and female – should take up a trade so they have a marketable skill to live off or fall back on.

“Becoming an electrician is not just about domestic wiring,” she explained, “there’s also industrial wiring, instrumentation and programming. There’s a broad spectrum of careers you can go into, which offer a vast array of progression. Once you are an electrician you can go on to become a project manager, technician or designer.

“It has been so rewarding to see how our apprentices have succeeded over the years."

She added: "We’ve had a few boys stay with us after training. Others have moved on and set up their own businesses, or have taken on managerial roles at other companies. Another boy fulfilled his dream of moving to Australia, where he now works as an electrician. That’s the beauty of learning a trade. Once you are qualified you can work anywhere in the world. Also, as an apprentice, it isn’t the worst paid job in the world. And once qualified, and the further you progress, so the pay becomes quite competitive.”

But what is the solution to attracting more females to the trade?

According to Sonya, it’s all about “education and making connections” – and encouraging high school female pupils (the younger the better) to study science-based subjects, maths and technical (CAD) drawing.

As chairwoman of Moray Employability Action Group – a multi-agency partnership – Sonya makes regular visits to schools to talk about the advantages of working in the electrical profession.

She said: “I would really like to see schools encouraging young people from an early age, especially girls, to think about entering this industry. Ideally, it’d best to target the younger pupils – before they’ve made their subject choices. Subjects and skills that girls should be looking to study - should they be interested in the profession - are sciences, maths and Computer Aided Drafting (CAD).

“There is so much scope for employers of firms to go into schools and made connections with the pupils - to promote the industry and to encourage girls that it’s a great place to work. To really get the message out there that girls can do this, that it’s an excellent apprenticeship, with excellent training, and a whole host of career opportunities available at the end.”

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