Upping my trade skills for International Women’s Day

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

My years spent working in the built environment and construction sectors has meant I’ve absorbed a lot of tidbits of information about everything from boilers to MVHR systems, but I’d never tried to learn a trade. With International Women’s Day and National Apprenticeship Week falling in step this year I made sure to get myself booked on the wall and floor tiling course run by The Leeds College of Building as part of their range of courses for IWD.


What comfort zone? I can’t see a comfort zone?

My grandfather taught me how to do basic like hang wallpaper and wire plugs (back when you still could) but I’d never attempted tiling and had no clue where to start. Being on the wordy and communication side of things, tiling was most definitely out of my comfort zone. Way out.

But International Women’s Day, in addition to the official annual themes (this year is #balanceforbetter), is about pushing forward, advancing into new areas and taking on new challenges. Even if they seem small or insignificant to others.


Smashed tiles and a fresh pair of gloves

The course was morning only, which meant packing a lot into a short space of time. Appropriately PPE’d up, we practised applying the adhesive to the wall. Fun fact: they make left handed tiling tools. But true to my typically awkward self I preferred the using the right handed tool, left handed. Thankfully so too did the instructor.

I also managed to get adhesive all over my gloves, rendering it impossible to pick up and apply a tile without covering it in adhesive. One fresh pair of gloves later it was time to try some tile cutting. That…did not go so well. Machine cutting was straightforward, hand cutting with nippers is going to take some practice. Cutting out complex shapes from curves to centered Us requires a gentle patience – a skill at which I have to work.


Levelling up my trade game

By the end of the morning we’d successfully adhered a small block of 6×2 grey and yellow tiles to our assigned bay walls, applied grout and wiped them down to remove any remaining marks. After washing and replacing our tools, we were, of course, allowed to take photos of our handiwork. Every single one of us took a photo. Why? Because we were proud of our work. Proud of tackling something different and beyond what many of us were used to in our day-to-day lives. I was definitely extremely happy with my effort. Not only that, I felt inspired to take what I’d learned and apply it in the ‘real world’ by tackling some DIY projects.

And that’s the big take-away here. Offering and running courses is one thing, but to provide people with applicable skills and the confidence to continue to develop and use those skills outside of the course is the needed result. Everyone who wants to learn construction skills and pursue a career in this field should be given the opportunity and the support at every stage of learning and in their subsequent roles.