Jenny ThompsonPainter & Decorator
"All the women who have gone through their apprenticeship with our company have gone on to work for themselves and have set up their own successful businesses, which is fantastic."
Taking up a trade was something I had been interested in since my school days in the ’80s. But my family dissuaded me at the time, saying that it wouldn’t be suitable for me. They were much more interested in me going to a third level college.
Subsequently, I studied environmental management. There wasn’t much work in that area in the ’90s. These days, that has changed of course.
I started my apprenticeship to become a Painter and Decorator at 22. On a J1 visa in the USA at the time, it was pure chance that led to me taking up the career. I was amazed to discover some all women painter crews over there. An Irish friend worked with one of them and asked if I would be interested in getting a job there too. I jumped at the chance!
It was exciting times. I thoroughly loved the physical work and to learn on such big and impressive projects. We were painting exteriors, working off scaffolding for the first time, and doing those lovely quintessential San Francisco timber clad houses. Sometimes we painted using up to 5,6 or even 7 different colours at a time. It was quite challenging! I loved the comradery among the crew and am friends with some of them to this day.
As time drew closer to going back to a course I was only vaguely interested in, I decided to stay on. I was lucky to be able to extend my visa for a year before I eventually came back to the ‘ol sod.
Perhaps things worked out for the best in this way. The training I received in the US was superior to what was available in Ireland in the ’80s.
I learned an exceptional standard of finish and attention to detail. Environmental impact of paints was already a concern in the USA and the use of Low VOC paints was common.
It was standard to use acrylic paints there, while it was unheard of at home. It would be another decade before the concept was considered in Ireland. Because of my education in this area, the company I went on to establish in Ireland made a point of seeking out these paints.
These days it’s normal practice for Irish companies to use these paints. In fact, I think they are superior to solvent-based paints, particularly on exterior wood where any moisture in the wood can breathe, so over time, the paint will fade as opposed to blistering. Thankfully solvent-based paints are becoming a thing of the past. This is essential for environmental reasons.
It was daunting as well as exciting setting up a business, but fantastic to be my own boss. There is plenty of work in the decorating world.
Going this direction was a positive move with regards to being a woman in the trades. There is unconscious bias everywhere, but being a business owner you command more respect. Additionally, clients build trust with women quickly and they are confident in my abilities in aspects such as colour consultancy.
Men sometimes end up in trades not by choice but through the work made available to them. It’s different for women. Those who decide to do a trade have considered it greatly. Therefore they tend to be more focused, serious, interested and ambitious in their job.
Looking at our industry today I can still see room for improvement.
We need to overhaul the apprenticeship scheme. It needs to be modernised to keep up with the requirements of the industry. Apprentices require new techniques. E.g. up to date equipment to minimise dust, spraying machinery etc, better workwear for women, positive discrimination to right the gender ratios in the industry. Women only toilets on site is important – and it’s starting to happen!
Societally, I believe that the trades must be taken more seriously and as a positive career opportunity. It needs to be seen as a profession by choice.
My company Kelly and Thompson Ltd. Painters and Decorators tend to work mainly in the residential end covering high-end interiors, large exterior projects, working not only in Ireland but also abroad in London, Paris, South of France for the past 8 or 9 years.
I am very proud of our high standard of finish in our craft. We provide a good, safe, fun and positive environment for our employees to work in. Sharing knowledge and teaching interested trainees/tradespeople is something that is very fulfilling for me.
There is a lot of talk about more women entering trades but it doesn’t appear to be happening from where I stand. I believe this is because it is yet to be truly perceived as a positive career choice.
All the women who have trained with our company have gone on to work for themselves and have set up their own successful businesses, which is fantastic.
We are currently recruiting painter and decorator apprentices so if this piques your interest you can reach out me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It would have made a huge difference had I been encouraged rather than discouraged away from this career when I was younger.
With this in mind, I would like to say to other women considering going into trades; It is a most rewarding career. You can travel and pick up work anywhere in the world and it is exceptionally satisfying to have a sought after skill such as this!