Gemma Weston is working as an apprentice engineer at CSS Environmental.
What was your first job?
At the age of 13 I began to train as a hairdresser and, after leaving school, continued to work in the industry for a further three years. I felt this was a stereotypical industry for a female school leaver to enter and, as an ambitious individual, the job lacked the progression and excitement I wanted in my career. Once I had left hairdressing, I was unsure what career I wanted and tried a variety of roles, where I achieved a qualification in hospitality and also worked with horses. However, none of them seemed right for me and I continued to search for a more desirable career.
What does your current role involve?
I am a trainee engineer assisting on a number of installations and service work. I am working towards my level 3 qualification which I study for at Eastleigh College on an apprenticeship scheme. I assist on a variety of jobs along with my colleagues, for example we work on a variety of refrigeration systems which is an area I feel I excel. We also work on air conditioning systems ranging from a small split system all the way up to the big VRV/VRF systems. I find great joy in my job, especially the thrill in fault-finding. I am working to become predominantly a refrigeration service engineer, and I am also enjoying installation which will hopefully make me a very good all-round engineer. I spend the majority of my time on different sites.
What attracted you to the industry?
I started in the industry in a health and safety office role, but then a position as an apprentice engineer in air conditioning and refrigeration opened up. This sounded very interesting but challenging at the same time. I wanted to go for it as I thrive working in a demanding environment. Since joining I have thoroughly enjoyed myself and have never looked back. I have a very active mind and like to think outside the box so I felt I would thrive in this industry.
What excites/interests you about the industry?
I like that you must use multiple skills which can sometimes be quite challenging. It means I need to use my mind to overcome particular obstacles and I find this very rewarding and motivating. I like to look back on my work and be proud of what I have achieved. Every time I go on site I am learning something new and this is by far the most rewarding part of my role and working in the industry. You also get to meet so many amazing characters with inspirational experiences to tell. There is so much opportunity and so many different paths to experience so you can continuously grow personally and professionally.
How would you like to see your career developing?
I would like to become a lead engineer in my company and be able to pass on my knowledge and experiences to the future generations of trainees in the industry. I would also like to encourage men and women of all ages into the industry by becoming an example of what determination can help you achieve. I now know I can start from the bottom and achieve success with the right attitude and support around me.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
While I moved between temporary jobs looking for a career, I began to lose hope. I felt I was unable to achieve much and had many barriers preventing me from particular paths. I didn’t perform as well in my GCSEs as I wanted to, which led me to believe that many roles were out of my grasp. However, one day after a conversation with my cousin, I was told never to let anyone tell me what I can and can’t achieve. This helped me to realise that as long as I had the drive and willingness to learn new skills, I would be able to succeed in roles I thought I would never experience. This has led me to working in my current role and also attending college once a week to learn and build on my skills and knowledge.
What do you see as the challenges facing the industry?
One of the biggest challenges facing the industry is attracting women and showing them how they can develop and achieve things across their career. Another challenge is climate change. With more extreme weather occurring in the UK the demand for air conditioning and refrigeration is on the increase. It will be a challenge the industry will need to overcome to meet possible increases in demand and it is also important for the industry to reduce its carbon footprint and help minimise the impact on the environment. Another challenge is that the industry is not well enough known to the future generation of workers; when I was at school, I was unaware of the positions available. It is important that there is further encouragement for potential workers, both male and female, to ensure the size of the workforce meets the demand for the industry. On a personal level, a challenge I have faced is my strength and ability to lift heavy units. Fortunately, there are lots of tools and safety training that has minimised this impact and allowed me to work as effectively as male colleagues.
What would you say to other women considering this industry?
Like the advice I received, I would tell them never to let someone say they can’t do something; if they put their mind to it then they can achieve anything they want. It is a tough industry but very rewarding. I love the saying “if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life”. I would advise to just go for it, it is the best decision I have ever made, and I have found myself in a fantastic company which gives me the full support I need. There is a place out there for everyone, especially in the RAC industry. There is such a big support network for women. I found myself falling into the very trusted hands of the WiRACHP group, which welcomes men and women into the industry and lets you know you are not alone and capable of being successful. I have had great support from all the members involved and you can find them on LinkedIn.
Little-known fact about yourself:
I have recently joined the steering group of the WiRACHP which has helped me feel very included in the industry. I also thoroughly enjoy the countryside and I am a passionate animal lover. I have my own horse, Muzita, who is a retired polo pony. If you can’t find me at work or at home I will definitely be in the field with my horse. We often enjoy long hacks together and the occasional game of stick and ball. I also enjoy studying natural horsemanship and have built an amazing relationship with my horse.
At home I have my two dogs, Bradley and Opie, who often join Muzita and I on our long hacks across the countryside. I own two bunnies who have very original names... Mr Bunny and Mrs Bunny. There are also two guinea pigs and two chickens and the skills I have learnt have helped me to build a hutch and coop for the animals. I have recently begun to enjoy growing my own fruit and veg, which if successful I will feed to my pets!