College helps hands-on Jill climb career ladder

Jill Cormack worked in a variety of administration and customer services roles for EDF, Virgin Money, Gateshead Housing Company and another North East property maintenance firm.

But the 26-year-old from Boldon has now made a radical career change after taking up a four-year apprenticeship run by Gateshead College.

As part of the scheme, Jill is working towards a nationally recognised Level 2 plumbing qualification and is employed by West Boldon-based TW Plumbing & Heating. 

Jill said: “I’m a practical person and I’ve had a burning desire to be a plumber since the age of about 16. When I left school I ended up in a series of customer service roles and although a call centre environment is suitable for some people, it wasn’t really the career for me.

“In my last job as a housing assistant for Gentoo, I worked on several property maintenance projects which reinvigorated my interest in a plumbing career. I decided that, at the age of 26, it wasn’t too late to retrain and do something that I really enjoy.”

The apprenticeship combines theory and practical activities, with Jill spending one day a week at Gateshead College and four at TW Plumbing. It has given her specific industry knowledge of the latest plumbing techniques and technologies, as well as transferable skills such as the ability to work as part of an effective team and deal with difficult customers.

“The apprenticeship has given me a good grounding within the industry, as well as some really useful life skills that I can apply in and outside of the workplace,” said Jill.

“I’m the only female plumber at the company but I feel comfortable working in a traditionally male-dominated environment.”

The plumbing apprenticeship is one of a wide range of vocational training options provided by Gateshead College. Students can enrol on apprenticeships in many subjects, including creative industries, business and administration, hairdressing and hospitality and catering.

Mick Brophy, managing director of business innovation and development at Gateshead College, said: “Jill is one of many beneficiaries of our apprenticeship programmes which allow people to earn a wage whilst training.

“We work with dozens of local employers to make sure that the training meets their specific business needs. This allows employers to build a skilled team that can protect their business and fast-track its growth.”

Jill hopes that TW Plumbing will offer her a full-time position after she has completed her training. The company is a firm advocate of apprenticeships and in 2012 was named as one of the North East’s best employers in the regional final of the National Apprenticeship Awards and National Training Awards.

Martin Whitehead, director at TW Plumbing & Heating, said: “Jill started with us in March and has made an excellent first impression.

“We need to fast-track more young talent into our industry to prevent a skills shortage when older skilled workers retire. Our partnership with Gateshead College gives us every chance of achieving this and it’s great to work with an education provider that truly understands our needs.”

For further information on Gateshead College courses, visit or call 0191 490 2246.