7 September 2022
Nathan Martin-Nicholls is a black British-Caribbean gas engineer, who has worked in the industry for over 17 years. This is his story of how he transitioned from an apprentice to senior gas engineer whilst at BritishGas, to a business owner and his views on gender, race discrimination and suggestions for improvements.
Nathan moved on from an apprenticeship at British Gas to senior gas engineer to owning a successful business named INHOUSE Plumbing and Heating Services with his business partner Nabil Hossenally.
Getting into the industry
Since Nathan was a young boy, he loved looking for things to fix and he knew he was good at practical tasks. When leaving school, he wasn’t given any real guidance on the things he could do, so he enrolled on an electrical installation course at college which he quickly learned wasn’t the right fit for him. Knowing he needed to make a change, he sought career advice at college and that’s how he discovered the world of apprenticeships. Here, Nathan found his British Gas apprenticeship where he learned all about the industry and his trade, and this was the start of his career.
Barriers into the world of trades
Nathan came up against his biggest challenges when he moved on from British Gas and started his own company, INHOUSE Plumbing & Heating Services. Nathan says, “I was scared to start out on my own because I didn’t have my own clientele, but I was also nervous as the industry felt like it was mainly made up of English tradesmen, so I was anxious about how people would perceive a tradesperson like me.”
Nathan continues “My business partner is Mauritian, and I am black British-Caribbean, so I couldn’t help but worry if we would be able to make it in the trades industry. But like I say to my three children: ‘We can’t control what happens outside our homes. We can only try to influence, and say how we feel, and demonstrate the strength of our skills as tradespeople.”
Discrimination on the job
Unfortunately, Nathan has had a few negative experiences when working on different trade jobs. On one occasion, Nathan did a job at an elderly lady’s house and was welcomed with hot drinks and lovely conversation. However, when Nathan left, he was informed by his work colleagues that the lady called head office and requested that she did not want another black engineer to visit her home again. He was surprised to hear that, as he felt like he’d done a good job and the customer was happy. This instance also made him question his manager on the actions they took because accommodating a racist request also contributes to the diversity problem both in the industry and even within the wider society. Sadly, to Nathan’s knowledge, a white engineer was sent to her house following her request.
Nathan commented “At the end of the day, I would have been fired from my previous company if I made a comment like that or I refused to go to a person’s house to do a job because she was white. It is dangerous for companies to tolerate this kind of discrimination.”
A call for inclusivity, diversity, and equity
Nathan is a strong advocate for more women getting into the field and said he would encourage his daughter to enter the industry if she demonstrated an interest in it. But he thinks, alongside parental encouragement, more needs to be done around promoting opportunities within trade careers to girls at school.
Nathan and his business partner, Nabil, are passionate about encouraging more young people and women into the industry and are keen to take on more apprentice engineers so they can teach them the trade. He believes that if more people see women excelling in the trade industry, then it will become the norm, and then more women will want to work in the industry. Nathan thinks it would also be a great idea for trade professionals to go into schools as part of a career’s advice service to talk about the amazing opportunities that are available in the industry, and to demonstrate how people from all walks of life, regardless of gender, can get into it.
Nathan says: “More belief is also needed in the tradeswomen already working in the industry. I know tradeswomen who have been on a job and they find that homeowners question their work and don’t trust their professional judgement and recommendations. We all have the same training, so this is crazy to me. We need to judge people on their work, their job, and the way they work as tradespeople, rather than just their gender.”
Advice to young people
As somebody who sees immense potential in the future of young people, Nathan’s advice to anybody who wants to get into the industry is:
“Network – get onto LinkedIn from an early age. This can be a great way to secure an apprenticeship. And treat your social channels to advertise your skills and work ethic. Keep people up to date on your work across all your social channels and be professional; I consistently post my work on social media, and this is a quick and effective way to get your business name out there.
Also, do not be afraid to ask for help. Most people want to help young people succeed. We have been there and done it, so we want to be able to help.”