Syma Khatun shares her motivations to pursue a career change
Syma Khatun joined Wates in 2017 as a qualified plumber working on a repairs and maintenance contract with Peabody Housing Association. Fast forward three years and she has traded her tools for technology after being promoted to a supervisor for the company’s work with The Guinness Partnership.
The 44-year old from North London started her career in the retail industry and she shares her motivations to pursue a career change, and how it paid off.
I had been working in retail for 15 years when I decided the time had come for me to explore a career I truly felt passionate about. I’ve enjoyed fixing things from a young age, and often imagined one day learning an essential trade and pursuing a hands-on profession like plumbing.
The turning point came in 2010 when I needed some maintenance work done to my flat. The plumber who attended completely destroyed my bathroom and charged me an astronomical price in the process! I was outraged and felt compelled to help protect other people, particularly those who are vulnerable, from having a similar experience. I hoped that by learning how to do it myself I could help improve the trade’s reputation and dispel the stereotype of plumbing being a male-only industry.
My first step was to attend a local open day and through this, I landed an apprenticeship. I was given the choice of learning plumbing or carpentry and with my recent bathroom setback still at the forefront of my mind, I chose plumbing. I was fortunate enough to be assigned a mentor who had more than 30 years experience in the trade and who felt passionately about more women joining the industry. He taught me many invaluable skills and played a big part in me getting to where I am today. After three years of learning on the job, I qualified and accepted a permanent position as a plumber.
I joined Wates in 2017 and while I appreciated the safe and inclusive working environment, I quite quickly identified a lack of female supervisors. The business had recently launched a new diversity and inclusion plan which aimed to create a business where everyone is welcomed, included and connected and this motivated me to push myself. I have always had a strong work ethic and I was keen to climb the career ladder and explore a supervisory role. I was put forward for an interview and offered a six-month secondment, all fully supported by Wates.
Now I’m a supervisor, I’m far more office based but I’m fortunate that I’m still able to be hands-on and attend essential repairs. The advantage of having learned the trade beforehand means I can get stuck in and it certainly helps to have the plumbing knowledge when dealing with contractors and suppliers! My favourite aspect of the job is talking to the tenants and ensuring they feel comfortable and safe while work is ongoing. I’ll never forget what happened to my bathroom and in my home so making sure our customers are provided with a high-quality service is something I will always strive to do.
Closing the gap
There is still a wide gender gap in the plumbing industry and a lot of progress to be made for the built environment sector to become more reflective of wider society.
Just over 20% of Wates’ workforce are women and 12.4% is made up of Black Ethnic Asian Minority (BAME) employees – so we’re certainly on the right track but the company is working hard to improve these statistics. I’m proud to be part of that and for having the courage to take the plunge towards an unconventional career change. Plumbing might seem an unusual choice for a woman but I’m so pleased I took a leap of faith and I hope I inspire more to do the same.