Hutt Gas and Plumbing presented the first Diverse Talent Award for small and medium-sized companies at this year’s Diversity Awards NZ and is tacitly leading the way for women in skilled trades.
he proven that a gender-based workforce is not only accessible, but also beneficial and a solution to a labor shortage, Wellington-based Hutt Gas and Plumbing has established itself as the preferred employer and market leader in the industry.
Now she has been publicly recognized for her outstanding achievements at the annual Diversity Awards NZ – with the Diverse Talent Award for Small-Medium Organizations.
It all started for the company when Director Colleen Upton was approached by a prospective plumber and gas fitter whose application for an apprenticeship was denied by 25 companies. This startling information convinced Colleen that it was time to drive industry change, starting with her own workplace.
Colleen and her fellow directors Darren Smith and Grant Jefferson not only hired Shelley Sydow, who became the company’s first female plumber and gas fitter, but they also quickly became clear champions of employing more women in their careers.
Founded in 1992, Hutt Gas and Plumbing today has 24 employees in the male-dominated construction industry, which is currently affected by an acute shortage of skilled workers.
Most plumbing businesses are small, male-run businesses and many do not train apprentices, leaving women with little opportunity to secure a job.
Unsurprisingly, Colleen met with vehement opposition in the early days of trying to increase women’s participation.
As a result, she focused on making changes in her own business, getting the team on board, and overcoming obstacles such as sourcing commercial clothing that conforms to the shape of women and access to appropriate toilets in commercial locations.
By recruiting more female apprentices, nominating them for awards and raising their profile at industry events, Hutt Gas and Plumbing has built a reputation in the industry for providing a safe, inclusive and diverse environment. This has created a demand for apprenticeships and attracted female employees from other companies.
It has placed the company in a strong position to lead by example. Hutt Gas and Plumbing’s workforce is 21 percent female (37.5 percent when administrative staff is included) compared to an industry average of just 2.6 percent.
It currently employs the highest number of female plumbers of any plumbing company in New Zealand, with five women in that position.
“By training more female apprentices, we hope to see more plumbing companies in the hands of women in the future and thus increase the opportunities for future female apprentices,” says Colleen.
“Our male trainees also benefit from the fact that they are exposed to a diverse work environment in which working with a woman is not an issue.”
A look into the future
Apprenticeship training has always played an important role at Hutt Gas and Plumbing. It offers the opportunity to embed the company’s culture and values in the future workforce, as well as leadership opportunities for senior employees.
“When we set up work teams, we make sure that all employees have the opportunity to learn from both men and women,” said Colleen. “These teams are constantly rotating in order to offer the trainees a comprehensive experience with different personalities, leadership styles and instructions.”
To date, the company has trained more than 50 apprentices and there are more than 14 plumbing companies in Wellington now owned or employed by former Hutt gas and plumber graduates.
The apprenticeship training includes individual pastoral care and mentoring, career advice, budget advice and assistance in preparing book work before entering university. The team organizes employee study groups for support and encourages employees to join relevant industry organizations such as the National Association of Women in Construction and pay membership fees.
Employees are also expected to work towards higher qualifications.
“We have the highest number of certified plumbers and gas installers of any other plumbing company in Wellington. A certifying qualification is the highest qualification achieved in the industry, ”says Colleen.
Pay at Hutt Gas and Plumbing is based on skills and experience, which reduces gender pay gaps.
Colleen continues to advocate more women in the industry through her influential national leadership roles and industry roles.