With people from many different roles talking us through their typical day we are delighted to welcome Katie Jones, apprentice heating engineer at The Heating People.
Katie was crowned Screwfix Trade Apprentice 2023 back in May, after impressing the judges with her dedication and passion for renewable heating technologies.
Name: Katie Jones
Organisation: The Heating People
Job title: Apprentice Heating Engineer
Location in the UK:
The Heating People is based in Southport, serving customers all over the North West of England.
Q Your company/business in one line
The Heating People design and install energy efficient heating systems, using next-generation boilers, solar power, and air source heat pumps, to help customers in the North West improve their home comfort whilst reducing their energy usage.
Q Why did you want to become a heating engineer?
“When I left school, I was keen to do something practical that allowed you to learn on the job. I had several jobs in different sectors until in 2020, when I was working on a Covid testing site, a colleague suggested I look at going into a trade.
“When I started to explore the professions you could go into, heating engineering and plumbing immediately stood out to me. I noticed it involved more maths and science than other trades, which really appealed to me as those were my favourite subjects in school. I also loved the fact you can go self-employed, choose your own hours and travel too.
“There’s a big misconception in the industry about what a gas engineer does, I think I always thought of it as someone who does emergency plumbing jobs – unblocking pipes, fixing leaking taps etc. I’ve been on the tools for two years and not unblocked a toilet once!
“Since enrolling on the course at Southport College and working with The Heating People, I’ve really found my calling. I also love working with heat pumps and efficient systems.
“There’s a lot more technical work required for these types of installs in comparison with boiler installations, particularly in terms of design, heat loss calculations, preparing the pipework and testing. For me this is an exciting part of the job, designing a system and seeing it come to life.”
Q What is your experience of being a woman in the trade?
“I think heating engineering and plumbing is still very much seen as a ‘man’s job’ and that outdated view is something that needs to be tackled – starting in school. It’s a profession that I would have never considered in school, simply because it wasn’t brought to my attention as an option. I did well academically, and I felt like university was pushed as the only viable option for me. But I knew I wanted to do something more practical, I just didn’t have any information to help me explore that.
“When I was first looking for an apprenticeship, I remember meeting a tradesman who worked at a gas engineering company as I wanted some advice on getting into the industry. Considering this was my first impression of the industry, I was surprised when he asked me questions such as “how are you going to lift a boiler on the wall?”, suggesting I wouldn’t be able to handle the physical side of the job. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also had a lot of support from my peers – especially from my employer – which has been brilliant, but that wasn’t a great first impression.
“Now I’m out in the world doing it the reaction is generally positive, particularly from customers. They always notice that you’re a woman in the industry as it’s a bit different to what they’re used to, but often the reaction is that it’s great to see. Others have said to me that it’s a real advantage as some customers feel more comfortable with a female tradesperson in their house – particularly if they live alone, are elderly or disabled, or have young children.
“I genuinely believe this job brings so many benefits, I can’t really understand why more people aren’t exploring it as a career option – particularly girls. I want to buy my own house one day and I’ll be able to install the heating system, fit the bathroom, even hang shelves – I hadn’t even used a drill before doing this job! It’s really helped with my independence.
Q What’s an average day for you?
“It really depends on the job we’re doing, but usually I’m out of the house by 7.30am and at the first job by 8am. If we’re doing a boiler installation for example, we meet with the customer, get all the tools out of the van and lay down the dust sheets to minimise any mess. With a boiler installation we then drain the system, do a tightness test and gas test, and start taking the old boiler off the wall.
“If the gas pipe or condense pipe needs upgrading, one of us will be taking down the boiler whilst the other works on the pipework.
“Then it’s lunch. After, we then do the flue, condensing pipe and commission the new boiler. We may also do a flush to clean the system of any sludge and debris, and ensure the new system is working as efficiently as possible.
“We’re based in Southport, and we are in demand for more and more heat pump installations, which we do all over the North West region. As this involves more travel, we usually leave Southport around 7am and I’m home by around 6.30pm.
“It’s a very physically demanding job, so I’m often pretty tired by the end of the day and ready for dinner and bed!”
Q Are you excited about the future of the heating industry?
“It’s really exciting! I feel lucky because my boss is expanding into heat pump technology, so I’m able to learn from him and enhance my skills in the process. For example, I recently completed training on heat pumps and efficient systems which really helped me develop my knowledge and apply this to the growing demand we’re getting for low carbon technologies. There are a couple of reasons for this shift – some people want to save money on their gas bills, and others want to invest for the environmental factor and to reduce their carbon footprint.
“Going forwards, the role of a gas engineer will completely change. I think it’s great for the industry in terms of job opportunities and expanding your existing business if you’re self-employed. Eventually, every gas boiler in the UK will need to be upgraded and there’s something very exciting about that for the industry as a whole.”