María de los Ángeles Vara Gamino has always had a special interest in the world of plumbing. After dedicating herself to it self-taught at home, this 45-year-old woman is training at Fundación Laboral de la Construcción to become a professional plumber
María de los Ángeles Vara Gamino already knew the world of plumbing. As a teenager, she worked for four years in a sector shop, and although she has not devoted herself professionally to this profession, time has never made it possible for her to forget a sector she is passionate about. After taking care of her children and doing some small-scale work at home, María de los Ángeles has started training at the age of 45 and has enrolled in the course “Plumbing and Domestic Heating and Air Conditioning Operations” at the Training Centre of Fundación Laboral in Toledo. She is now working on her internship, discovering the secrets of a profession to be joined in the future.
Question.- How were you introduced to Fundación Laboral program?
Answer.- I knew it because I have always been interested in plumbing training. I’m unemployed and I wanted a free course to train in it. While I was doing another course at the Red Cross, I was informed how I could enrol in this one, so I was waiting for the applications to open, and the day they left, I enrolled. This was the one I was really interested in.
Q.- Why were you interested in this particular course?
A.- I had been interested for a long time. When I was 16 years old I was making a substitution for almost four years in a plumbing shop and I was already a little bit involved in the sector, even if it was in the field of business. I don’t know why, but I’ve always enjoyed plumbing and for a long time I’ve been waiting for this course to start.
Q.- Since you finished your replacement in the plumbing shop, have you dedicated yourself to something related to the sector?
A.- I have done what I could, but not to work as a plumber. Yes, it’s true that I’ve always liked it and everything that I could do at home, I’ve done it. Although there were times I made mistakes, I also had some good results. I haven’t done any great things either, because I haven’t had much idea.
Q.- Have you ever had any previous training in plumbing?
A.- No. I am a very adventurous person, both for good and for bad. At home I have tried few things, but in a self-taught way, without studying for it. My husband, who is a “handyman”, has also been a good teacher for me and I have helped him as much as I could because I love doing it.
Q.- How was your first day in the course
A.- Good. It’s true that I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to be welcomed in a “men’s” course. I thought there would be no women because this is a male world. It was a pleasant surprise to see that there was another woman in the course, I saw that I was not the only one. But in the end, she was more interested in air conditioning than plumbing and left the course.
Q.- And how was the first contact with your classmates?
A.- Everyone asked me: “Why do you take a plumbing course?” I replied that it was because I liked it. I believe that to do a course of this type you have to love it because it’s not about wasting time. I’m not offended to be asked, but I have never asked any of my classmates the same thing. You are supposed to do the course because you want to dedicate yourself to it or have a professional career, as was my case. The truth is that I’ve had a course with 14 great classmates. I can’t complain, they made it very easy for me. I think at first they thought they had to be careful with what they said, but I don’t think that when there is a woman in the group you have to be careful. I am first a person, then a colleague and then a woman.
Q.- What do you remember of your time in the course? Was it what you expected?
A.- The course was what I expected. Everything has been very intensive and we have seen everything very quickly. Then it’s true that you go to training and you see the real world. I think the practical training will be very important to be introduced in this world. I liked the experience. I’m happy and satisfied to have done the course, to have completed it successfully. Before I was not interested in studying and now I have taken it as a goal. Not only to achieve it, but because I want to dedicate myself to it and with the feeling that I took advantage of the course and I did it the way I wanted.
Q.- You have just started your internship, what is the experience like?
A.- Very good. This is real life. I am doing an internship in a workshop, but it is not the same as the practical training we did in the Center of Fundación Laboral. Real life in the end has nothing to do with the workshop. There you learn how to do it, and then you have to do it. You learn that with the experience of the years, you don’t learn it for many years that the course will last. Life is doing things as well as you can. You can find a breakdown with a thousand circumstances and you have to solve it in a thousand ways, you don’t learn that in any course, no matter how long it may be. I think that the practical training will help us a lot.
Q.- When you finish your internship, would you like to continue working in this profession?
A.- Yes, I would like to work in something related to plumbing and become a professional. I’m going to do my best. There’s always time for circumstances to tell you “so far” and you have to pull the other way. But if I could not dedicate myself to this, with this certificate of professionalism, I will always return to trading in this sector, and now more trained than ever. I would like to solve the breakdowns, but if I could not, at least make the delivery so that the breakdowns are repaired. You have to adapt to the times. I have done this because I have one more option. Now you have to be professional in something to work. I like this and I believe this profession has a future.
Q.- Are there more women in the company where you are doing your internship?
A.- I am the only plumber. I think there’s a woman painter, but I don’t know if she’s on an internship or working. There are very few women. It’s strange to see a woman in the sector, even among us, but it’s also a normal reaction. Seeing a woman electrician is not normal in everyday life, because there aren’t any. We can be like any man, but it’s not the standard.
Q.- Have you met young people in the course or during your internship?
A.- Yes, there were some young people in the workshop, but we were mainly adults. One of the participants was 16 years old and lasted three days… I think that plumbing has to be something you meet by chance. It’s a scary job, with a lot of responsibility. I think it’s a world that you have to know a little to be able to start. I see this profession a little “hereditary”, which passes from parents to children, or through someone you know. That’s why I think there are older than younger people in the sector.
Q.- Do you think you could have started training in the sector before?
A.- Yes, but my circumstances have been different. I live in a village, with limited transport, and for a long time I had to take care of my children. Now they are older, independent and I can spend time training and working on it. I haven’t trained before because I haven’t been in a position to do so. Now that I have more time, I want to train so I can go to work and express what I am. Before, I couldn’t define myself with any profession, because I didn’t have one. Why don’t I give myself the opportunity now to try to train myself to be able to do something that I want to do? Giving myself the opportunity that I didn’t have in another moment of my life?
Q.- How do you think the sector will change in the coming years?
A.- I believe that plumbing is a profession that should not be lost because it is very important, but I think that, in the long run, anyone will be able to make an installation. On the one hand you have internet and tutorials that teach you everything, and on the other hand, the materials they sell you now are to fit and throw away, so you don’t need tools or anything. All this will be gradually lost.
Q.- Do you think plumbing is a profession in danger of extinction?
A.- Plumbing cannot disappear. In all sectors, progress is increasingly rising and it is true that unless it is a matter of breakdowns related to copper or iron parts, you have a lot of facility to make an installation with no idea. It is also true that there are still breakdowns related to old installations or breakdowns where you have to raise the floor in which you have to call a plumber. But now the plumber is the second option, you are the first option and you try to do it by yourself.
Q.- What would you say to a girl who is considering entering the construction sector?
A.- I would say that in life you have to do what you like. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman; you have to go for what you want. There will always be someone criticizing what you do. I think it’s simple: if you like it, why don’t you do it? You put up the first barrier. It is true that the trades are still a world of men, but you have to move forward, there will always be time to say no.
Q.- Did you think about resigning during the course?
A.- During the course, the teacher told me that he thought I was going to give up. At first I also thought about it when I saw so many guys. But I had to be the most empowered. I’m not the kind of people that give up either. We can all do the same job, and if not, we can help each other. I would tell that girl who wants to start that she doesn’t have to put up barriers. There will be those who put them on us, and then we will throw them away.