Women in plumbing: Gaining experience and momentum in the industry

By Dineo Phoshoko

Finding people with years of experience in a particular industry can sometimes be difficult. Debbie Blatt and Lorraine Mooi have 40 years’ experience between them in the plumbing industry. The two women share how they got into the industry and how they have remained in it for so long.

Debbie 001 newwebDEBBIE BLATT – GEBERIT SOUTHERN AFRICA

Please explain your job and what you do on a daily basis.

I am the head of Geberit KwaZulu-Natal. I manage all the activities of the regional branch, for example budgets, sales, stock, staff, customers, training, and site support, and ensure that we deliver unsurpassed service excellence to our customers.

How did you get into the industry?
I started off in a plumbing company, working in all the various departments like buying and estimating. Then I branched off into site measurements, which led to me studying quantity surveying, specialising in plumbing.

What made you decide to join the industry?

It was the first job I landed, and I was only too happy to get a job at that time and didn’t focus on what the job entailed; I just got on with it. As time went by, I found myself enjoying what I was doing.

How long have you been in the industry?

Since 1986 (31 years and counting).

Regarding male colleagues, how do they react towards you?
Many of them respect the knowledge and experience that I have gained over the years; however, new people are a little apprehensive when they meet me initially. Still, I can hold my own on the technical stuff and that is always the deal-breaker in earning the gents’ respect.

What challenges do you currently face in the industry?
I wish for the old days again where a handshake was worth something. Nowadays, you have to get everything signed and that still doesn’t hold any water.

What are some of the highlights or milestones you have had as a female in the industry?
Being part of the enormous growth Geberit has experienced over the past 13 years.

What kept you motivated to keep going during difficult times?
Transferring my skills to the guys working for me and seeing them grow in their abilities.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Chasing numbers, sales, and imparting my knowledge to others — teaching people.

What unique skills do you think you bring to the industry as a woman?
My quantity surveying background has really made a difference in understanding the sales world and has given me the skills to run the branch. I have vast technical knowledge in the plumbing industry and that, coupled with being a woman, gives me an edge and the ability to engage and communicate with people on a different level to my male counterparts.

What would you like to achieve in the coming years within the industry?
I would like to be a sales director of a company at some stage before I retire. I think I can add value to a company.

From the time that you started working in the industry till now, what changes have you observed?
Handshakes are worthless. Proper tradesmen are few and far between, leaving the industry worse off than before. The industry has become a cut-throat business.

Any advice for other women aspiring to work in this industry?
Stand up for yourself, make sure you know what you are talking about — knowledge is power. Have all your facts and figures on hand to back up anything you say.

Every day has a new challenge and at the rate that technology is progressing, I am excited to be part of this world, experiencing all these new products and solutions.

* Image: Debbie Blatt is the head of Geberit KwaZulu-Natal, and has been in the industry for more than 30 years.


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