A career change later in life is a daunting prospect, but this mum took it all in her stride, quitting a ‘glamorous’ sales job to become a builder in her 50s.
Lynn Johnson, 54, spent 30 years as a housing sales advisor, and was usually surrounded by other women in ‘heels and lipstick’.
But when her son entered his teens, she quit her job selling houses to start building them, becoming one of just two female apprentices on a scheme with over 340 trainees.
Despite the challenges that come with the job, Lynn says the early mornings and physical tasks are worth it to see her work come together.
She admits she occasionally has to ‘lay down the law’ to male colleagues if their work isn’t up to scratch, but Lynn loves her new career and hopes to set up a construction business with her son, now 13.
The single mum is currently training for a Level 4 construction site supervisor apprenticeship with the National House Building Council (NHBC), an 18-month course which she’s due to complete in May this year.
Lynn, from Ormskirk, West Lancashire, said: ‘Swapping my heels and lipstick for work boots and high vis was the best decision I ever made.
‘I’d been selling houses from the age of 21 and I wanted a change.
‘I was always interested in construction, and when my son grew older, he didn’t need me around so much, so I decided to make the switch.
‘I wanted a challenge – and I’ve certainly set myself one.’
In November 2021, Lynn quit her housing sales job, going for building as she was ‘always interested’ in the trade.
Although she took a pay cut when she became a trainee, she said: ‘Once I’m qualified, I’m hoping to earn about £20,000 a year more than I would have in sales.’
Additionally, she prefers the regular salary of her new role over the commission-based pay at her previous employer.
She is currently working on a construction site in Preston, Lancashire for the housebuilder Persimmon Homes, and says she can count the number of women she has worked with ‘on one hand’.
Lynn takes it all in her stride, though, commenting: ‘People look at me with surprise because it’s not the norm to have a female site manager.
‘Not only am I a woman, but I’ve also switched job at this age to take up a trainee role, so I had a lot to deal with.’
At first, she worried about being taken seriously in such a male-dominated environment, but kept asking questions to build her knowledge and show enthusiasm.
Now, colleagues ‘respect [her] input,’ and she’s able to call them out when a job doesn’t meet standards.
‘I get on well with all the lads and have a really great team,’ the mum added.
The job can be physical at times, involving carrying heavy barriers and lugging waste building materials to the skip, but Lynn enjoys a ‘hard day’s work’ and says the sense of achievement makes her ‘feel alive’.
She’s also able to bring a unique perspective to the role, using past experience to keep things running smoothly.
‘Organisation and management skills are just as important to running a site as they are in sales,’ said Lynn.
‘I’ve also got a keen eye for what the customer is looking for in a new home – especially when it comes to finishing touches. This has certainly carried over from my old job.’
Once she is qualified, animal-lover Lynn dreams of building her own home, as well as a dog shelter. She also wants her son to give an follow in her footsteps with an apprenticeship, and to encourage more women to consider a career in a trade.
‘It’s never too late to start an apprenticeship in construction, I’m 55 in April,’ said Lynn.
‘Times are changing. It’s becoming more normal to see women working on building sites, and we have so much to contribute.’
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