Think you’re not strong enough to succeed in the trades, or worried about being the only woman in a team of guys? Elaine Pereira has been there. But as she discovered, physical strength isn’t as important as you might think, and neither is gender. With her positive attitude and solid work ethic, the 28-year-old has found work she loves, scored a valuable apprenticeship, and is accelerating towards a rewarding career in the automotive industry.

When Elaine Pereira’s car started playing up, her desire to fix it herself ignited a passion for the automotive trade. But despite her enthusiasm, she had doubts about how well she’d fit in as a tradie.

“My first perception of doing automotive was, oh, it’s a male-dominated trade, I’m not sure how it’s going to be. I didn’t know if I was going to be welcome. But everyone’s been really helpful, really kind and approachable. All my doubts that I had in the beginning have been pointless.”

As the only woman apprentice in her workshop at Trucks and Trailers in Wiri, Auckland, she’s found she sometimes takes a different approach to certain tasks, while still getting the same result.

“I may not be physically as strong as some other people, but there’s often other ways to get the job done just as well.

“I’ve found I sometimes do things slightly differently from the males in my workshop. I do ask them for advice, but I make it work for me to suit my comfort zone and my strength.

“For example, installing a transmission takes a lot of upper body strength, which men often have more of. For me, I’ve found I can use blocks of wood so I don’t have to hold the transmission up the whole time. It’s little things like that – finding an easier way to do exactly the same job, without putting yourself out.”

Trucks and Trailers service manager Kelly Henshaw would like to see more women like Elaine making their mark on the industry.

“It’s good to have a woman apprentice in a largely male-dominated industry. It’s not very common unfortunately, but certainly something we encourage. We do notice women are often quite detail-oriented, which is an asset in the trades.”

Unlocking her calling

With a background in the customer service industry, Elaine didn’t always picture herself as a tradie.

“Automotive wasn’t something I thought I would do growing up, but I’ve always been good with my hands. At home, if something breaks, I’m the one who fixes it. So it was something I was interested in; I just hadn’t applied it to a trade yet.

“I do have the personality to do customer service work, but I hit a point where I realised I wasn’t getting anything out of it – it was just a paying-the-bills job. I realised I’d learned everything I could in that industry and I wanted to do something new.”

At that point, she had been working at call centres for around 10 years – but when her family’s car started playing up, she had an epiphany.

“I’d just had a baby and I was on maternity leave. My car wasn’t running well and I was like, ‘I wish I could just get out there and fix it’. And that’s when it dawned on me that I can get out and fix it, and I’m going to learn how.”

Determined to get going, she started looking at automotive courses and enrolled at Unitec – and being Māori (Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa and Ngāpuhi), she qualified for an MPTT scholarship.

Speeding into employment

Elaine, who is married with children aged two and four, started working full-time straight after her pre-trades course.

She found the job with Trucks and Trailers thanks to Got a Trade? Got it Made! SpeedMeet– an event where employers and potential employees can meet each other for short, speed-dating-style interviews.

Mark Lawrence, acting regional manager for industry training organisation MITO, helped introduce Elaine to her employer and says it was clear she was a great candidate for the role.

“She got the job off her own back at the speed meet. She’s motivated and there’s nothing stopping her – she’s got a really good attitude and is a really positive person.”

After meeting some of the managers from Trucks and Trailers, Elaine was invited to come into their workshop to have a look around – and that day they offered her the job.

“I feel like I’ve scored my dream job to be honest,” says Elaine, who also loves that the workshop is just around the corner from her home. “Some days are a bit more challenging than others, but I’m really enjoying myself. My ability to expand my knowledge in this trade has been amazing, and I get to explore my passion for the industry.”

Keys to success

Elaine’s supervisor Kelly says she is a great asset to the team.

“One of her core strengths that really stands out is her positive, bubbly personality and she gets on really well with the team.”

Elaine’s reliability and enthusiasm for the job also make her a valuable employee, says Kelly.

“She’s a family woman with commitments at home, which gives her a different level of responsibility and work ethic. We do find often apprentices who are a bit older and have family to think about have more maturity and commitment to their work, because being able to provide for their family is important to them.”

Elaine was able to negotiate working hours that allow her to drop her youngest son off at daycare in the mornings, which Kelly says the organisation was happy to allow.

“We’re always looking to be flexible where it makes sense to do so. It does need to work for the employer and the rest of the team as well.”

Smooth transmission

Although she loves her job, Elaine knows it’s not enough if she wants to get qualified and enjoy a lasting trades career. That’s why she let her employer know from the start that she wanted an apprenticeship.

“After all of this I don’t want to be doing something and not get qualified at the end. I want to be doing something that will be with me forever.”

Having recently signed the contract for her apprenticeship, Elaine says the key to success was being open with her employer about her goals.

“I think my age and having worked full time previously helped me open those lines of communication.

“If I could tell my 18-year-old self what I know now, I would say just be honest, because having a good and open relationship with your employer can improve your work-life balance. I wish I’d had that advice when I was 18 and looking for a job.”

She says the best time to bring up your career goals or any issues that might impact your work is when you first meet your potential employer.

“Being honest from the start is important. Whether or not you think someone’s going to want to hear it, you’ve got to be honest.”

Employer Spotlight: Trucks and Trailers

Trucks and Trailers is a dealership for Mercedez-Benz Trucks and Vans and Freightliner Trucks. With three locations across the North Island, the organisation employs more than 90 staff including 15 apprentices. MITO’s Mark Lawrence says it’s a great working environment that’s suitable for trainees developing their automotive skills. “Trucks and Trailers are always looking for young people to join their team, and it’s a supportive environment to learn in.”

 

What you can learn from Elaine
  • Let your boss know about anything that might impact your work – even if you’re worried they won’t like it. Whether it’s an issue with your kids or your health, it’s best to be honest about it. Even though it can seem easier to just say nothing, if your boss doesn’t know what’s going on they won’t be able to help. Remember, part of your employer’s job is to support you to do the best work you can, so it’s best to let them know about any problems as soon as you can.

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