We speak to PE Product Tester Kelly Vincent to find out how she first got started in the electrical trade. We also talk apprenticeships and what the future holds for Kelly Electrics’ team of female electricians.
Why did you decide to become an electrician?
I left college at 18 and naturally fell into an administration role, but after 10 years I felt I had reached as far as I could go in that world. I didn’t want to be caged by the four walls of an office anymore and I decided I wanted to do something practical. My father is a Building Contractor and I’ve always been interested in what he does. When he suggested electrics I immediately thought – “now that wouldn’t be easy,” which excited me. Problem solving, fault finding, designing… I couldn’t wait to get started!
Tell us a bit about your journey from apprentice to business owner?
I was a painfully shy young girl at school, and didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself. So when I told my friends and family I was going for a career change to become an electrician, they were all amazed at how brave I was being. When I turned up at TradeSkills4U, where I studied, I was the only female in a class full of men. I’m not ashamed to admit I felt intimidated and on the verge of turning around and driving straight home. But something inside of me made me push myself to walk through the doors and take a seat.
I studied hard and completed the City & Guilds 2330 Level 3 Electrotechnical Training, 17th Edition Building Regulations and 2392/1 Inspection & Testing. I passed with flying colours; I couldn’t quite believe I was doing as well as the men on the course. When I was fully qualified, I searched high and low for a contractor to take me on as a trainee. I was lucky enough to find someone who was a brilliant teacher, I couldn’t have asked for a better electrician to be working alongside. He was so hard working, a perfectionist, with excellent morals. If the job wasn’t perfect, then it wasn’t finished – which is something I now live by! I stayed on as a trainee for nine months before they started sending me on jobs alone, which is where my confidence blossomed. After a year the company changed courses and all the electricians were made redundant, so I thought it was the perfect time to head out into the world alone and set up my own business.
What makes you different from your competition?
People may presume that being a female is what makes me different from my competition. It may make me stand out and people are often intrigued when they hear of a ‘female sparks’, but what I think makes me stand out is my attention to detail. I have high standards, not only for myself, but for the people who work with me. I also work hard at being a good listener because hearing what the client really wants is so important to ensure an installation is correct and fit for purpose.
I’m honest, open and friendly. Whenever I am working in a client’s home, I am always respectful of their families and for the space we are working in. I understand what it means to other women to feel comfortable in their own homes when they have tradespeople working there. I encourage my clients to watch me work by engaging in conversation with them. I want them to feel they can ask me questions about the work I’m doing or ask for explanations when they don’t quite fully understand safety issues we discuss. I have received a lot of feedback from my clients about how they feel very comfortable asking me anything and I’m very proud of that.
You seem to have picked up some great working practices since you started in the trade. Have you passed on your experience with your own apprentices?
Three years ago I received a hand written letter from another female who was just about to finish her qualifications. I didn’t have time to interview her and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to employ anyone at the time, but I asked her to join me for the day so we could talk more and so she can get an insight into what it’s like working as an electrician. She was very inquisitive, she paid great interest in each job and appreciated thorough explanations on things she didn’t understand. She got stuck in and in that first day I really felt like I had helped her achieve something.
I decided to take her on full time. We worked amazingly well together, she was a fast learner and is now a competent electrician. Sending her out to jobs on her own and watching her confidence grow made me happy, so I took on another trainee. Now I have two girls from Lambeth College doing their work experience with us, and even a young lady from Finland doing an eight week work experience placement with us.
Have there been any projects that you have been particularly proud of?
One very exciting Christmas I got to play Santa when we got involved in a Hero project run by mybuilder.com, set up to help homeowners who needed repairs to their homes but couldn’t afford it. It allowed us to volunteer our time to help homeowners in need. A young woman with three small boys had no power to her lights, and some very dangerous electrics. We went in and got everything working and safe. To be able to give that gift to someone, especially over Christmas when times are particularly hard for families, was a blessing.
Where would you like to see your business in 10 years’ time?
I’m passionate about getting more women involved in trade professions. I’ve found it to be an incredibly rewarding career in which I’ve been able to meet so many people who I’ve been able to help.
Being a businesswoman doesn’t have to be all about money and success. It’s about passion for what you do, and for me, it’s about encouraging a new generation of tradeswomen. Spreading the word that women are capable and successful in trades.
I have worked extremely hard to get to where I am today, however, what I am most proud of, is being able to pass my knowledge and skills on to other aspiring female electricians and tradeswomen, giving people the confidence to make changes in their lives. So in 10 years I would hope to have a whole team of competent female electricians who are confident in training new starters in the industry!