Norwich female car mechanic says it is not just a job for the boys

There has been much debate about women who work in male-dominated industries but for Norwich mechanic Kelly Clarke getting her hands dirty at work is not just a job for the boys. Emma Harrowing reports.

Wearing her mandatory bright pink overalls, 21-year-old Kelly Clarke takes off her blue latex gloves and pops her head out from under the bonnet of a Vauxhall Corsa.

'I'm just checking the fluid levels,' says Kelly from Norwich. 'It's one of the more remedial tasks I do as part of my job, but everyone has parts of their job that they find monotonous – give me a more gritty mechnical job any day!'

Kelly has just become a fully qualified MOT tester, making her one of the youngest women in the UK to become a fully qualified mechanic.

'When I left school I knew that I wanted to become a mechanic,' says Kelly.

'I went to the Norfolk Training Services on Hall road and trained for an NVQ in mechanics. Everyone else on the course was male but being the only female wasn't as daunting as you might think, in fact the boys really helped me out.

'If you want to have a male-dominated career you cannot be put off by being surrounding by men. In the motor industry there are only about 200 female mechanics compared to over half a million men!'

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It's a surprise then that not just one, but two of these fully qualified female mechanics are working in Norwich.

Kelly works for car mechanic Caroline Lake who was one of the first women in the UK to become a fully qualified MOT tester and set up the female-friendly garage Caroline's Cars on Ashwellthorpe Industrial Estate.

'I joined the garage in 2007 while studying for my NVQ on a day release basis at college,' says Kelly. 'It's a great experience training under Caroline. The garage is a great place to work and working with another woman has given me a bit more confidence to succeed and pass my NVQ Level 3 and my MOT tester's exam.

'Training was pretty tough, especially the theory side. It takes about four years to become a fully qualified mechanic.'

Car mechanics is not the only career that is dominated by men. Construction, politics and the emergency services are all highly male-dominated. Even in management the glass ceiling effect still seems to be in place with many women overlooked for senior management roles. This could be about to change as a recent report from the Department for Business said that without women in senior posts companies will lose touch with their customers.

This is food for thought for Kelly who works alongside Caroline fixing and maintaining cars owned by their mainly female clientele.

Kelly says: 'We find that women feel more at ease bringing their car into a garage that is mainly run by women and we have a very healthy clientele.'

Kelly will soon be leading car workshops which were set up by Caroline to give women more confidence when it comes to changing a tyre, checking their oil levels and interpreting the jargon so that they know their camshaft from their carburettor.

However, their female-only workshops have turned the tables on the sexism in the workplace debate with some men feeling disgruntled that they cannot learn the same skills and glean the same knowledge as women.

'The workshops are now open to men too after some men complained that having a women-only workshop is sexist,' says Kelly. 'We do still offer women-only workshops alongside workshops for couples and mixed group workshops as some women prefer to learn in a female environment – especially if they are learning about car mechanics.'

The workshop has a solitary male mechanic who helps out on a freelance basis and is joined on occasions by Caroline's son, yet the garage is a very female orientated environment.

'Pink is the colour theme of Caroline's Cars,' says Kelly. 'In fact the waiting room has become a haven for pink with a pink sofa, pink piano and even a pink kettle.'

As Kelly talks she tugs at the lapel of her overalls: 'Even the overalls are pink. I love my job but wearing pink has to be the downside!'

Another woman is now joining their ranks. Moranda Ames joined Caroline's Cars in 2011 and has recently passed her NVQ Level 2 training – so she is showing the boys a thing or two as well.

Kelly says: 'I would say to any woman who was considering a job as a mechanic or in a field that is regarded as a male career to just go for it.

'Many women are put off by jobs that are dominated by men, but being one of a few females can sometimes give you an advantage – there shouldn't be jobs that are just for the boys.'