Welding up a grain trailer, no problem. Repairing telehandler hydraulic hoses, piece of cake. Rewiring a tractor’s clutch safety sensor, sorted.
These jobs are typical of the skilled work that 19-year-old apprentice agricultural engineer Tia Boulton-Crowe does each day.
Yet her ambition to do the job she loves has met the odd headwind in the agriculture sector, an industry known for being male-dominated and at times conservative in outlook.
See also: How to get a job as a farm manager
Tia is calling time on outdated perceptions centred around what’s possible for a woman in agriculture to do, whether they’re related to the physical demands of the work or the knowledge and skills required.
Now in the second year of her apprenticeship, Tia has been working at local dealer Alkmonton Tractors, based just outside of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, on the edge of the Peak District.
In September 2016, she began her agricultural engineering apprenticeship course at Reaseheath College in Cheshire.
“It’s a really exciting time to be in agriculture with some big changes and it’s something that is evolving all the time,” says Tia.
She’s modest about her impressive fabrication skills thanks to a steady welding hand, and says the combination of theory and practical work at college is brilliant.
Maths wasn’t her strong suit when she left school, but the everyday calculations she has been doing in working situations have massively helped hone her number-crunching abilities.
From the start of her apprenticeship, Tia was shocked to encounter the sort of snap judgements and comments she thought we’re consigned the bad old days of sexism.
She found certain people wrongly assumed she was a tomboy simply because she wore scruffy, oil-stained jeans and has an interest in big kit.
“They look at what I’m doing and make an assumption about who I am and what I’m like. It’s a classic case of don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“It’s the 5% of people that I’m doing job for who will make a judgement about me when I turn up in the van and start setting my tools out – I have had a lot of stick just because I’m a woman. People might say that this is a man’s job, but it just isn’t.”
Despite not having a farming background, Tia has always been happy to mucking on her god mother’s farm or work alongside her mechanic dad.
She has fond memories of working with her dad on an old scrap Land Rover Defender.
“I can remember the father-daughter bonding time. I have very vivid memories of taking the engine out and working on it together,” she recalls.
Tia is enormously proud of the work she has done so far and is keen to encourage more young people to consider this career and not be put off by a male-dominated industry.
She says an apprenticeship course is a good way of getting into the industry as you can earn while you learn.
“I’ve always been interested in engineering and I wanted to be an apprentice to earn a wage.
“Tractors play such a big part in people’s lives and work, it’s really important that you do a good job – farmers respect you for that.
“I want to encourage more people to get into this brilliant career because it’s such rewarding work.”
She has big plans for the future and is particularly taken with the design element of her engineering career, to help increase the productivity of British farming.
“I want to make it easier for farmers to use machinery and make a difference by helping raise farm productivity. The future is all technical, mechanical and electrical.
“My heart is really in this and I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am today. I’ve had some right rough times where I’ve thought ‘what am I doing?’, but the good outweighs the bad.”
Tia welcomes anyone to get in touch with her to ask questions or get advice on working in the agricultural engineering sector.
Tia Boulton-Crowe’s careers advice for aspiring agricultural engineers
- Don’t be fooled that you have to be a certain way to do the job of an agricultural engineer
- Keep your head up and let nothing stop you
- You get a lot of respect for what you do and you end up meeting some incredible people
- Enjoy the good times and the tough days