Single mum 50s from Lancashire quit selling houses to build them as one of just two female apprentices

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A single mum from Ormskirk in Lancashire has swapped her "glamorous" housing sales job to become a builder in her 50s - as one of just two female apprentices.

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 herself.

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Lynn became an apprentice builder and said "swapping my heels and lipstick for work boots and high vis was the best decision I ever made".

Former saleswoman turned construction worker Lynn Johnson, before and after.Former saleswoman turned construction worker Lynn Johnson, before and after.
Former saleswoman turned construction worker Lynn Johnson, before and after.

Out on site at 7am on a freezing cold morning, lugging waste to a skip, and setting out foundations, she said she loves seeing 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 one day hopes to set up a construction business with her son, now 13.

Single mum Lynn is currently training for a Level 4 construction site supervisor apprenticeship with the National House Building Council (NHBC).

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She is one of only two female apprentices on the scheme, out of more than 340 trainees.

Female construction worker Lynn Johnson stands in front a site in Lancashire.Female construction worker Lynn Johnson stands in front a site in Lancashire.
Female construction worker Lynn Johnson stands in front a site in Lancashire.

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 had 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."

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Construction worker Lynn Johnson, in her house sales days.Construction worker Lynn Johnson, in her house sales days.
Construction worker Lynn Johnson, in her house sales days.
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In November 2021, Lynn quit her housing sales job to pursue her new challenge.

Lynn was "always interested" in becoming a builder, but as her 13-year-old son grew older and didn't need her around so much, she decided to make the switch.

The scheme is 18 months long, meaning Lynn will be a fully qualified site supervisor in May 2023.

Although Lynn 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."

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And while her sales job salary was commission based, working as a site supervisor provides a regular income which is "really important for keeping a roof over our heads," she said.

She is currently working on a construction site in Preston, Lancashire for the housebuilder Persimmon Homes, her employer, and she can count the number of women she has worked with "on one hand".

Once she is qualified, Lynn would love to build her own home as well as a dog shelter, because she loves animals.

The job can be physical at times, involving carrying heavy barriers and lugging waste building materials to the skip, but Lynn enjoy a "hard days work" and says the sense of achievement "makes you feel alive".

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Comparing her job in sales to her current role, she said: "There were a lot of women in the office - it was very glamourous. Now I'm on site at 7am, frozen solid. It's hard work, but it’s rewarding.

"Seeing a building site go from a foundation to a whole row of houses with actual families moving in gives you a lot of satisfaction - it brings communities together."

Lynn says it has been challenging at time to work in a such a "male-dominated" environment.

"I could count the number of women I’ve worked with on one hand," she said.

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"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, I was worried about not knowing what I was doing and not being taken seriously.

"But I just kept asking questions, and the more knowledge you digest, the more people respect your input.

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"I have to lay down the law every now and then if the standard of work isn't up to scratch, but I get on well with all the lads and have a really great team."

Despite occasional heavy lifting, Lynn says the skills required to be a site manager are more transferrable than one might think.

"Organisation and management skills are just as important to running a site as they are in sales," she said.

"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.

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"I had my lovely warm and cosy sales job. There were a lot of women in the office - it was very glamourous.

"My son's coming up to choosing his GCSE options, and I'm encouraging him to apprentice in a trade, either as a joiner or as an electrician.

"It would be great to have a mother and son company one day. He's very proud and wants to follow in my footsteps.

"I think more women should work in construction. Not just as site managers, but as electricians, brick layers and plumbers.

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"It’s never too late to start an apprenticeship in construction, I’m 55 in April.

"Times are changing. It's becoming more normal to see women working on building sites, and we have so much to contribute."