Claudy twins Shannon and Tylor Cartin are encouraging other women to consider a career in the trades.
Ten years ago, twins Shannon and Tylor Cartin were approaching the end of their schooling at St Patrick's and St Brigid's College in Claudy and all around them their female friends were figuring out their next steps.
Some were planning to go on to study A-levels, others had hopes of pursuing a hair and beauty course at their local college while some had decided to go into retail.
The Claudy girls however were quite clear on what they wanted to do – they wanted to go into a trade.
For Shannon, the idea of returning to study at school 'didn't appeal' to her. A conversation with a neighbour, who works as a welder, in the February before she left school got her seriously thinking about following the same career path.
“My neighbour asked me what I was planning to do when I left school. I said I wanted to give engineering a go because I liked the sound of it plus I was always good at technology and working with my hands and stuff.
"He asked me to come and work with him on Saturdays and part time in the evenings and it gave me a feel for welding,” said Shannon.
“When I was leaving school I said I would try welding for a couple of years to see how I got on with it and I ended up really enjoying it.”
For Tylor, after a week's work placement in a garage in Year 11, she knew she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father Mickey, who started as an apprentice mechanic when he left school.
“I was reared into it,” said the 25 year-old.
“I was just a while wee sponge. I always had to figure out how things worked and I just loved learning. When it came to doing work experience at school I went along to Desmond's garage in Derry for a week and I just fell in love with it.
"I just knew this was what I wanted to do. I came home from work experience and I said to mammy 'that's me, I'm going out to the world of work'. Of course I was told to wise up,” she laughed.
While Shannon headed off to North West Regional College to study welding, twin Tylor secured an apprenticeship with Browne and Day in Claudy where she worked for five years alongside training with TTS (Transport Training Services) in Nutt's Corner.
At that time, very few girls were going into the trades and Shannon soon found out she was the only girl in the Springtown campus.
“The boys sort of looked at you as if to say 'what is she doing here' but the more you got into it, they didn't really care. After a couple of days they knew I meant business,” Shannon continued.
Shannon Cartin made history when she became the first female lecturer in fabrication and welding at NWRC.
While the girls' two older brothers decided to go down more academic routes, they admit that following a different career path never really appealed to them.
“Everyone in the family was a bit hesitant at the start when I told them I wanted to do welding - they were asking 'why'?,” said Shannon.
Tylor added: “When I announced that I wanted to be a mechanic, everybody did say 'it's a while aul thankless career', 'it's an aul man's job' and 'your back will be broke, you'll be crippled by the time you're 30 and there's no money in it'.
"I just thought 'no matter what you tell me, I just want to give this a go'. I went up to Browne and Day with daddy and I told them this is what I want to do, no matter what.
"The boss asked me if I was sure and said he could maybe get me a wee job in sales. I said 'no, I want to be in the garage'.”
Shannon started off her apprenticeship with Dungiven-based MCM Sheds and Engineering before moving to Brian Scott Engineering in Garvagh where she worked for four years.
Just under two years after securing employment with AC Engineering in Limavady, Shannon received an unexpected phone call from the college where she had studied at less than a decade before.
They wanted her to come and work for them as a lecturer in fabrication and welding.
“I was happy down there at AC Engineering and didn't really want to leave. I told my employer I'd been offered this job in the Tech and I didn't really want to take it," said Shannon.
"He told me I'd be mad not to take the job. I never really seen myself as a teacher. He told me he had applied for the same job years ago and wasn't offered an interview so the fact they were phoning me up looking me to come and do the job was saying something."
In September 2021, Shannon made history as the college's first female lecturer in the trade.
“At the start it was a bit weird. I was thinking 'how am I going to stand in front of a class and teach people or talk to people' but once you get your first couple of classes over you, you're grand.
“I had just started the job and another lecturer landed up into the workshop and asked me 'where is your tutor?' I said 'I am the tutor'. He thought I was a student,” she laughed.
Getting to see her students' progress and watch them grow in confidence is what really drives Shannon on.
“There's a fella I had and he said to me 'Shannon, I'm never going to get this. I can't do this.' I went in with him and stood beside him and talked him through everything and I said 'try that now for a couple of runs and see how you get on, then bring it out to me'.
"I remember he flung the curtains open and came charging out of the bay shouting 'Shannon, I done it!' That feeling is just class knowing you've really helped one of your students.
"You knew that they could do it and they've just proved they can do it and are so happy with themselves.”
Tylor Cartin has worked as a mechanic for the last ten years.
Tylor who also worked in Desmond Motors for two years has been working at the MOT centre in Omagh for the last 18 months.
Tomorrow (Wednesday), she also graduates with a level four in vehicle electrics and diagnostics having successfully completed the two year course.
She also has plans to host a basic car maintenance course at the Women's TEC in Belfast in the coming months.
Tylor does admit that her job is tough and she has to be at the top of her game to keep up with the ever-changing industry.
“Mechanicing is constantly changing and with me being in the MOT centre now, I am already outdated. I will already be behind the times by about a year and a half - that's how quick it changes,” she said.
“You're constantly learning. I just love learning how things work. I just think engines in general are amazing. People just jump into a car and put it into drive or into gear and away they go.
"They don't think about the amount of components that have to work together to make that vehicle move.”
Tylor says her job has 'taken me to so many different levels' over the last ten years.
She may be better known as 'the girl from Pristine Competitions', but she has also starred in BBC television series 'Tricked-Out Tractors' which Tylor admits 'is one of the best things I've ever done'.
“Before the show was filmed, I thought we were going up just to screw tractors. It was mechanicing, but I was learning a while lot. Before I wouldn't have had much tractor experience but I just love learning and I'm so glad I done it as I got some amazing opportunities out of it. They flew me out to Essex and I got to meet Mr Lamborghini.”
Despite working in industries dominated by males, the twins say they have never really encountered any negativity about their gender.
“For a man going into that job you have to prove yourself, know what you're doing and have basic common knowledge of what you're working at,” said Tylor.
“For me, whatever daddy taught me, that's all I had so I nearly had to prove myself ten times more to keep up with the basics that men knew. Other than I was thran, I wouldn't have made it.
"There was days when I had been mechanicing for five or six years and I was having the worst day in the world, everything went wrong and I came home here and said to myself 'Tylor, would you wise up and go and get yourself a job in an office'.
"You doubt yourself every day, you really do. Every job is the same. I just had to push myself otherwise I wasn't going to get to where I wanted to be.
“I know there probably is a while fear there for women going into a male-dominated industry because it is intimidating but I think men are much more accepting of women now.
"They don't think twice about a woman coming into work with you now. I think the older generation maybe would be a bit surprised when they come in and see a woman in the job but they never say anything bad about it.
"It's just the stereotype that people have. If I ever see a woman out on a site or driving a bus I'll look and say 'there's a woman, isn't that great, fair play to them'.
"You shouldn't make a point of it but I just be that delighted to see them. I think it'll get to a day where that is just the norm.”
Shannon added: “The pair of us wouldn't change our jobs for the world because it's just who we are.
“If you have an interest in trades at all, just go for it. The only person that's stopping you is yourself. If you started to worry about what everybody else thinks you'll never do anything with your life.
"If you have an interest in something, you may as well go out and enjoy your job every day rather than stressing and being unhappy in a job you don't want to do.
"You're better going out and learning something and trying something new and just enjoying yourself. That's why I've loved the last ten years of my life because I was doing something that I loved to do.”
As part of our Women in Business feature for International Women's Day, Liam Tunney talks to Magherafelt-based interior designer Shauna Kelly about her creative spark, expanding her business and the pull of home.
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