Grace McDonald, a third year Fire Alarm Engineering Apprentice with Clymac is the industries first female apprentice to complete the FESS apprenticeship standard. We interviewed her after hearing the amazing news and this is what she had to say about her achievements and what it is like working in the fire and security sector.
Well done Grace and Clymac on such a wonderful achievement.
What is it like being a woman in the industry?
I’ve found that on some of the larger sites with an engineering team, such as food factories, the initial impression was “oh, you’re a girl. Are you able to do the job?”. This then puts doubt in your mind as to whether you are actually capable. I’ve found that it takes a bit longer to earn the trust of the staff on site but after the second or third visit they start to warm up to you and realise that you are more than capable of doing the work, whether that be the routine PPM visits or a reactive fault call.
On the other hand, I also do a large variety of sites who love that they have a female engineer on site and are really encouraging, especially on sites where they have female tradespeople there such as site electricians and mechanics. I’ve found that being a female tradesperson has been a really positive experience and all other women in the same boat will support you and are really rooting for you to do well. You can also rely on them to back you up in the event of any sexism on site (which thankfully I’ve not experienced a great deal of).
As my patch has changed a couple of times since I started at Clymac, my customers have changed too. However, I still get several of my old customers calling me for advice for an issue they are having. I also have a couple of customers that have requested to keep me as their engineer. This is quite humbling and has been a massive confidence boost for me. It has changed my mindset towards jobs too: I am more positive and have even more of a “can do” attitude towards work.
How do you feel about going forward to your EPA?
Coming from a company that doesn’t do a lot of install I was initially really hesitant for my EPA exam. However, being able to come into centre for some additional one on one training and having the tutors at Skills for Security spend some time with me to explain the parts of the industry that I lack the knowledge in has been really helpful. It has enabled me to complete the required modules to get to my mock EPA stage and actually have an understanding of what is being taught. As a result I have been able to go to sites and notice non-compliances that I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on without going to college.
Can you tell us about the support Skills for Security has offered you?
In addition to the extra training Skills have offered me, they have also provided me with help and advice for a few personal issues I was having. I could put forward my reasoning for the way I was feeling and my tutor would re-word anything so I didn’t come across as argumentative. College has been a useful sounding board and have been available to talk to whenever I’ve needed them.
What has doing an apprenticeship been like for you?
This is my second apprenticeship after already completing one with a different company specialising in warehousing. Compared to my last apprenticeship, Skills for Security offer a much more ‘hands on’ approach, physically assisting in my learning. They have a physical college to attend to sit in either the practical or theory classrooms to work on your knowledge. This is leaps and bounds ahead of my last apprenticeship where I was just left to do all of the learning myself with my tutor visiting me for an hour every month to make sure I was filling in my online portfolio but not actually assisting me in my work. Skills have also allowed me to take things at my own pace and let me participate in lessons in a way that I feel comfortable with and not be put on the spot. I could still prove my knowledge via tests or one on one discussions with my tutor instead of having to speak in front of a crowd. I feel like this has enabled me to be fast tracked as I haven’t been put under any pressure to complete tasks in a specific way: as long as my work is completed and it’s right, the way I choose to learn can be accommodated.
You are the first girl going through EPA and fast tracked. How proud you are of working so hard and getting to go through sooner?
I’ve worked really hard both in and out of centre to be put forward for my EPA early. Skills for Security have given me additional tasks to complete to confirm my understanding in areas that I was struggling with. My manager has also been a good sounding board for any questions I had and he has been able to explain to me in simple terms that I can understand. The help I have received from both my tutors and my manager have enabled me to progress quicker whilst also ensuring that my knowledge is proved by completing quizzes throughout. I’m really excited to go through my EPA and receive a qualification to back up my work on site.