Fifteen years ago, in her early forties, Maria de la Serna-Lopez made a bold move from behind the desk as a successful finance manager to a hands-on career as a heating engineer.
Fifteen years ago, in her early forties, she made a bold move from behind the desk as a successful finance manager to a hands-on career as a heating engineer.
“I found myself stuck in a rut, sick of a 12-hours a day, six days a week work-life spent in front of a computer. I felt trapped. Around the same time my daughter left home for university to begin her training as a midwife.
“I knew there had to be more to life than the office and when my daughter left home, I realised what I needed was a change of direction. I loved the idea of working with wood, perhaps as a carpenter or a cabinet-maker. A conference about encouraging women to work in the building trades caught my eye and changed my life!
“I got talking to lots of different people at the event and one of the guys there told me about a government scheme to encourage more women into engineering – even back then. He explained that if I trained as a gas engineer, rather than a carpenter, I’d get my tuition fees paid. This made everything more achievable. I’d some savings I could live off and if I didn’t have to pay the course fees too, I could just about make it work. Life’s expensive!
“I signed-up to a gas training course at a college in Waltham Abbey and in July 2010 started working for K&T heating, which is where I’ve been working ever since.”
K&T Heating is a large firm based in Dartford. Although they undertake some private work, the main focus of their business is providing gas compliance services for local authorities, housing associations and charities across London and the South East. All together they look after around 140,000 homes.
“It was funny when I first started. I’d turn up for work and customers would think I was a nurse! I’d say, ‘’Nurses don’t usually carry heavy tools!” I was quickly accepted, in fact a lot of our customers, many of whom are vulnerable, prefer to have a female engineer in their home.
“Most of my work is boiler servicing and breakdowns so I’m out and about every day. I no longer feel caged behind a desk and I really enjoy meeting the tenants. They’re always fun to talk to and it’s really satisfying when you’ve helped them. It feels great when they are happy with you.
“I’m not the only woman at K&T Heating, so I don’t feel out on a limb. We’re a great team – there to support each other and learn off each other too. I’ve just renewed by ACS at Logic4training in Basildon and it was great. The facilities and training there are really good and this is the third time I’ve renewed my qualification.
I’m always keen to learn more – you can never know too much and the way we do things has changed over the years.
“Looking back, I see that making this switch in my career was a big thing, but it has really paid off and I love what I do. I realise that I’m getting older now, and am not as agile as I used to be, but I’m fit and well – I don’t need the gym, I just come to work!
“When things get too much and I can no longer scramble into the back of cupboard to get to the pipework, there are other things I could do. Some older engineers go into training, but I don’t fancy that. I’d be interested in moving into the auditing side. But for now, I’m happy as I am and thank heavens for the guy I met at the conference, who spurred me on to make the change.”