"When I started, I had nothing. I put down my last £200 as a deposit, and I made that decision. You can never go wrong investing in yourself."
- Former plumbing student Leah Carney
Starting a new career - retraining and setting up your own business for the first time - is undoubtedly difficult. Not knowing the future can be stressful: will it work out? Am I making the right choice? Is now the right time to be doing this? Many unanswered questions, no firm solutions.
And as much as we might try to convince you that, yes, now is the right time, you might be more inclined to listen to those who have gone through the training process as students. To those who have come out the other side with a sparkling career ahead of them.
Leah Carney is a designer and former delivery driver who enrolled on one of our plumbing courses during the COVID-19 pandemic and never looked back. Our tutor Jamie caught up with Leah to find out how her new career was going.
Q: Hi Leah! Thanks for taking the time to speak today, I know you must be busy. How did your decision to retrain first come about?
Well, I was doing some delivery driving just to earn a bit of money, and to get myself through the COVID situation. But before that, I was doing design work - that's what my degree is in. And then I just decided to retrain; in the past, people have told me that I'd be really good at plumbing or gas, just because I'm good with my hands, I'm logical, a good problem solver, that sort of thing.
Q: And why Access Training in particular?
I just started googling and doing my research, and came across Access Training that way. I did ring a few places actually, but when I spoke to the team at Access Training, we just kind of got on. I then got invited to come and have a look at the centre and see the training in action, before actually putting any money down.
Q: What were your first impressions when you came?
Everything looked really good, everyone was working, and I was really impressed with the plumbing workshop that you've got there. And yeah, that's what made my decision. I signed up that day, there and then, and I think I started about a month and a half later.
Q: And the enrolment process was smooth?
Yeah it was, absolutely. Can't fault it.
Q: So obviously now you've moved on, and you're getting on with the online learning as well, so you're now able to redo the theory as many times as you want. How are you getting on with that? What sort of flexibility does that give you?
Do you know what? I think the online training is like a godsend. You're in a more relaxed environment, you're at home nine times out of ten, so you've got the time to sit down and fully concentrate. You can take breaks when you need to, you can go over and recap. I like to watch things; seeing things in action helps me to remember them, so if I'm reading something and I don't quite understand or I'm not quite getting it, I like to find a video of someone explaining it, and then I'll understand. So there's that benefit of it as well, because you can stop and start whenever you want.
Q: So it hasn't negatively impacted you, doing most of your training online?
No, not at all. You can do mock exams and different papers, and continue to do them until you get it right. Whereas when you're in a class, you only learn it once and then you leave. So again, I really like home-based learning; you still have to put the time in, but it definitely sticks in your mind more. I've enjoyed it.
Q: Do you think that helps you, when you come in for your practical training, the fact that your theory base is so much better?
Yes, because I reckon if you were to start with practical - or to sit your practical before your theory - you might get lost, trying to learn everything at once. So I think it's done the right way around. Then, when someone starts to explain more in depth, or uses a word you remember, you're able to ask questions there and then. So it definitely has a benefit.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your training so far? I know you've already done additional training courses to add more strings to your bow. How have you found starting out in the industry, despite everything that's going on?
Fortunately for me, I have got a degree and other skills that I can always use - skills that actually do come in handy with my plumbing, because it is still based around homes and construction. But because I have been upskilling in areas I know will benefit me in the future, it looks good on the CV as well. And I may now be ahead of other people who've been doing it for ten years, because I've actually put my head down and said 'right, I need XYZ kind of trades behind me'. I'm doing my plumbing, and my Level 2 electrics, so that's really come in handy. Now I can apply for jobs that are based more around the Part P side, so I can get a bit more money from that, and I get a bit more hands-on in a different sense.
Q: With your new plumbing career, how are you finding it out there at the moment? There's obviously a lot of work around at the moment. Is that the case for you?
Definitely. There's a lot of work. Applying for a job isn't always straightforward, but the plumbing training definitely looks good on my CV. I have found that being a woman also gives me an edge, because I know there aren't many females in plumbing companies. I've found that with all my certificates and qualifications so far, employers are definitely interested. And it's given me the confidence to go out and do my own jobs privately as well.
Q: As I understand it, you're currently starting up a business on your own and having the best of both worlds, right? Do you feel like you've made the right decision by retraining and starting a new career?
Yeah, one hundred per cent. Retraining was definitely the best thing I ever did, and it was money well spent. At the time it probably doesn't feel like that, but if you put your head down and have a goal - a vision for where you want to be, and why you're doing it - then there'll be no stopping you. Because of the qualifications and the kind of practice you get with Access Training, you can absolutely go out there and be confident that you know what you're doing. I think especially as the government is pumping money into the trade industry, it looks like there's a long future in upskilling from where I am at the moment.
Q: So what's the next step in your career? You said you're moving into electrical work - where do you see that leading?
At the moment, I'm working on my brand, my logo and my website, and designing all of that. Because I have the skills to do it, I'm relying on myself to do all that. So that's the next step, plus maybe doing some emergency and weekend work.
Q: That's got to be quite exciting for you - to be developing all that stuff for yourself?
Yeah, it is. I mean, I've never opened a business, and for anyone to start out doing that, it's quite daunting. But I like to do my research and know what I'm doing, and kind of get my feet in there. So it's exciting, and I'm hoping that will kick off in the next couple of months, because I don't think there's a better time to do it than while we're in lockdown. There are more people staying at home, and they're doing more things to their houses, or they've got more time to have someone in to do work. And a lot of people I speak to have struggled to keep a good plumber or find someone they trust. I'd like to think that I have that kind of rapport with people; even if I don't know you, I'm always thinking of the customer and wanting to give the best possible service. I always explain what I'm doing, and that always pays off and works really well.
Q: And obviously, there are lots of resources on the Access Training portal to help you do all of that. You have contacts at the centre that you can still use, and your tutors can still help you once you've left.
Yeah, absolutely. I cannot fault anyone from the college at all - any time I've had a question or an email, they've always responded, even if it's a day or two later. They've always been so helpful. All the tutors, including yourself of course Jamie; I speak to Emma and the girls in the office; everyone's been helpful, and everything is transparent. There's nothing you don't know.
Q: I suppose the fact that we're still in touch proves your point!
Of course! And the great thing about that is that, if I explain my situation and tell you I need X, Y and Z, you can find a way to help that suits me. That's really been the forefront of it for me, to be honest: the fact that you really get to know the guys at the college. I imagine you go to other training centres, and once you've left, they think they don't need to know you. But with you guys, it's been a long time since I finished, and we're still in contact, as you say. I've come back now to do my electrical training and things like that - that's thanks to you guys.
Q: Finally, what kind of advice would you give to someone else looking to change careers right now - someone who's stuck in a rut? They might be on furlough or something, so how would they go about retraining?
I know there are people out there facing a really bad situation, and when I was looking to retrain, I was too. But I took the risk. I knew what I needed to do, and when I went with you guys, I used the last money I had to do it - and it was so worth it. All of you were so accommodating; if there were ever any issues, you guys helped. So my advice for anyone out there who's thinking about it is this: you just need to take that leap and do it. It's investing in yourself. You can never go wrong investing in yourself. Before you know it, if you put your head down, you could be ready to start before you realise.
Q: Thank you so much for your time, Leah, and best of luck for the future!
Thank you for everything!
* * *
And there you have it. You don't need to take our word for it - just look at Leah as an example of how retraining can change your life.
Browse Plumbing Courses
Learn your trade. Get qualified. Make it happen.