Susan Curatolo works with dad Nick for the family firm in Biggar. She reveals how she got started – and what it’s like being a woman in today’s industry
“Dad and I have a great working relationship...he’s seen so much, he’s the first port of call if I ever get really stumped”
Hello Susan. How did you get started as an electrician?
After leaving school, I worked with horses, but soon realised there wasn’t much money in it. I had a few office jobs, then went travelling to Israel, where I worked on a kibbutz, which was lovely. When I came back, I asked Dad for a job, thinking he’d just stick me in the office. Instead, he said: “If you want to work for me, you’ve got to go on the tools and learn to be an electrician. That way, you can eventually take over and know exactly what you’re doing.” I’d worked with him when I was younger for a few months and enjoyed it, but my heart was set on other things back then. But being a bit older, it made perfect sense.
What sort of training did you have?
I did a City & Guilds home study course, which meant poring over books and watching a lot of videos. Because I was working while I was learning, Dad gave me lots of pointers, so I got the most fantastic on-the-job training. Compared to just going through college, the amount of knowledge I had by the end of my training was great; I was actually out there doing it.
Did you struggle with anything to start with?
I didn’t find the maths and physics parts very interesting – I just loved the practical stuff. I’d always been pretty good with my hands and picking things up quickly; you only have to show me things once and I can usually do them fairly well.
So how is it working with your dad? Any arguments?
No, not really, I’ve always got on very well with him and we have a great working relationship. It’s helped that it’s not always just him and me. We had five electricians working for us when I started, so I’ve learnt from a lot of different people who were all good in their own right.
What was the first big job you did?
That would be the old Norfolkline refrigerated transport in Larkhall, where we installed a big chill and offices. We were running in a lot of big armoured cables for lights, small power and industrial power, and because it was in a chill, everything had to be waterproofed. We’ve also done a lot of work in quarries, so I’ve covered industrial, commercial and domestic. That’s probably the best thing about working with Dad – we’ve done every aspect of electrical work. Whatever the situation, going to any kind of job, finding the fault and fixing it is very rewarding.
And what’s the worst part of the job?
Working outside when the weather is bad. It’s not much fun putting lights up or pulling heavy cables in the rain. But saying that, I always like a challenge!
And how about being a woman in a traditionally male industry?
To be honest, ever since I was apprentice, I’ve never really had any problems. There’s only one person who’s ever had an issue with me being a woman, which is quite disappointing as everyone else has accepted me for who I am. When I used to walk on to building sites, they guys would look at me and go: “Oh, you’re the electrician.” But as they got to know me and saw I could do the work, they were absolutely fine.
What would you tell other women who want to take up the trade?
Go for it – don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. I’m not particularly tall or well built, but I can do everything that needs to be done, so I don’t see any reason why someone else couldn’t.
Have you seen more women in the industry as the years have gone by?
I’ve come across a lot of painters and the odd joiner. I’ve not met any female plumbers yet, but I have met two other women in the electrical industry; one an electrician and the other an electrical engineer.
How else has the industry changed?
There are a lot of different regulations now, which is making it safer. The only change that I’d like to see in the future is electricians being regulated. There’s currently no law against an unqualified person touching your electrics, which is an absolute disgrace.
How do you see the future progressing personally?
I think I’ll probably run things once Dad steps down – although I’m not sure he’ll ever properly retire! And I don’t know if I’d want him to, because he’s a real mine of information. He’s seen so much that he’s the first port of call if I’m stumped.
And how has SELECT helped you and the business?
My dad’s been a Member since 1991 and it’s been really handy. If you have technical questions, or if you come across something which doesn’t look right, you can always get hold of someone and they’re always very helpful. SELECT has certainly helped us out on many occasions.