“They tell you that women come to the sector to steal work from men, and that’s not true. There’s work for everyone”

Ángeles Casañas is back in the construction sector at the age of 52. After training in bricklaying and cladding, she worked in a construction company in Gran Canaria and already plans to continue training in a profession she really likes

Ángeles Casañas worked as a plumber in when she was young. After working in the hotel and catering industry, in 2018 she returned to the construction sector through a Training Project in Employment Alternation , offered by the Fundación Laboral de la Construcción de Las Palmas. Immediately after completing the course, once she had obtained the Certificates of Professionalism from the Masonry and Cladding Factories with pastes and mortars in construction, this 52-year-old woman found work in the sector as a bricklayer. The fact of being a woman over 50 years old has not been an impediment for Ángeles to feel at home in her new profession and to think about continuing to be linked to the sector in the future.

QUESTION.- How did you find out the Project for Training in Alternation with Employment in bricklaying organised by the Fundación Laboral?

ANSWER.- I found it through SEPE (the old INEM). I was unemployed for about four years and the employment counselor recommended it to me. She told me it was about bricklaying and I signed up.

Q.- Why did you decide to enroll in the course?

A.- Bricklaying is something I love, it’s fun. I had already done this type of work before, helping people in the sector. I had the opportunity to sign up for the course and it was great.

Q.- What do you remember about your time in the course? Which module did you find most interesting?

A.- The experience was wonderful. There was good teamwork, and I learned techniques I didn’t know. The teachers were also very good. One of the things I liked the most was the topic of building walls. The dry masonry was also a very nice experience.

Q.- How was your first day as a bricklayer on the construction site?

A.- Great. The first day we had to remove rubble and we spent about a month removing it. Then we started tearing down walls and preparing mixtures. The truth is that I remember it with affection, because it was a very beautiful experience.

Q.- Did you have previous experience in the construction sector?

A.- I worked as a plumber for about two years, until 2007. The truth is that I had no formal training, but my father was a plumber. I learned by watching how he did it and by asking, through experience. And that’s how I started in the sector. The first day I worked as a plumber they asked me to change pipes and everything went well. They hired me until the end of the project. Since then I’ve been doing other things, mainly catering.

Q.- What tasks do you like most about your work as a bricklayer?

A.- Honestly I don´t know what to answer. We take all the work they send us with humour. Surely I like everything so far, thanks to the atmosphere we have at work.

Q.- If you returned to unemployment after this work in which you are working, would you return to the hotel industry or would you try to continue working in construction?

A.- I would continue in construction. If I can take the hotel business off my hands, I’ll take it off. In the hostelry you work too much and you have little rest, you have a day and you barely disconnect. On weekends you hardly ever get any free time, and you have little time for the family. In construction you work Monday to Friday and have more time for yourself. In addition, I really love my job.

Q.- Have you met more women in the sector?

A.- In all the courses I have done in the sector there were women. For example, in the PFAE we were seven women. In the company where I am now, we are four women and three men in the group.

Q.- Were there more women on the construction site when you started as a plumber?

A.- No. When I started working as a plumber I was alone in the company. In the big projects I was involved in, there was only one other woman plumber and an electrician. But in the sector there has always been a lot of respect; no one has been surprised or anything, quite the opposite. People tried to help me as much as they could. I’ve never had a problem with a man, and I haven’t noticed any difference from my colleagues.

Q.- Why do you think women don’t want to be involved in the sector more often?

A.- On the one hand, I think it is because they consider it as a sector with more ‘gross’ things. And there are places where they see a woman and say: “This is not for you”. There’s everything in construction, but I’ve had good experience. I know girls from different professions and they tell me they are doing great. As long as there is respect, the work is really good.

Q.- Are you disappointed that you haven’t gone to work in the sector before?

A.- I tried. There were in fact two plumbing companies that asked for plumbers from the Employment Service of the Canary Islands and they didn’t take me because I was a woman. They told me I wasn’t what they were asking for, and the man behind me on the list, although he had less experience, was taken.

Q.- Is this situation still common in the sector?

A.- In many companies is still happening. In fact, on another occasion, the first thing we were told in a construction company was: “If you are women, don’t even bother”. I don’t know if it’s because of fear. You hear every day “women are taking away our jobs,” and that’s not true. In hospitals there are men and women, and no one takes anyone’s job. There is work for everyone, what happens is that one has to adapt one’s conscience and respect for work, in order to remove the nonsense that exists..

Q.- Do you think, as you say, that it is because of fear?

A.- I think so. Many say that women come to take work away from men. If you worth, it doesn´t matter you are man or woman. If we work and do it well, we form a team and the company benefits. These are archaic thoughts that must be changed. I tried my luck in more than 15 places. I tried many times, the companies regret me every single time and I didn’t know what the problem was.

Q.- An important aspect when working in construction is the age. Do you see yourself as capable of doing the job as other younger colleagues?

A.- Yes, I do the same job, I feel the same. We all help each other, no one carries more than is expected. We take care of each other. Age has nothing to do with your motivation to work and being constant. Age doesn’t matter here.

Q.- Have you met young people working in construction?

A.- In the courses I’ve been in, there was a young boy, in his early twenties. But, in general, everywhere else, we were all over 30 years old.

Q.- Do you think there will be young people to replace the present generation?

A.- I believe that if young people are trained, they can have a chance. I encourage them to train, because you never know where you might end up. But I also hope that they will continue hiring people over 40 for now, because those of us who have family responsibilities really need it. There is no age for training. Now I am thinking of continuing my training. In fact, if I were not working, I would like to finish the complete course of Waterproofing.

Q.- Do you consider training in the construction sector essential?

A.- Yes. For example, training in occupational risks is very important to avoid accidents. If the employer sends you to a place that you think is not safe and you don’t have the necessary equipment, you have to tell him that you’re not going to get on because you’re risking your life.

Q.- How do you think the sector will change in the coming years?

A.- I think it’s going to get better. It’s going to get through, and there’s going to be a larger female workforce and more educated people. It depends a lot on the employer, but I think the mind is opening more in the sector. With my colleagues, I haven’t had any problems, I don’t have a complaint.

Q.- What was your personal vision of the sector before you started working in it?

A.- I think you have advanced a lot in terms of materials and tools. I remember my father making the threads of the pipes and I thought it was all very hard, because everything was done manually. Now everything is easier, but the job still has its complications, you still find the typical problem to finish, but everything can be done.

Q.- What would you say to a young girl who is considering entering the construction sector?

A.- I would encourage her to persist, because she would see construction in a different way. It’s not the big bullshit out there. It’s a nice job. Seeing your work finished is a pride: that you start doing something and see it finished is a wonderful experience. The sector has a bit of a bad image, but we have to change it and give it a new look. With women in construction, we can.

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