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West Aucklander Brenna Bishop grew up helping her dad with building projects, but having never known a female builder, she wasn’t sure she could make it in the trade herself. Now a valued apprentice at Macreadie Builders, Brenna’s discovered she’s far from the only woman in construction. In fact, she’s found loads of support both on and off the building site.

When Brenna Bishop left school, she knew she wanted to do hands-on work. But she was initially hesitant to enter the trades industry. 

It wasn’t until she talked to her dad – a chippy himself – that she realised there was no reason she couldn’t become a builder. 

“When I started looking around at the trades, I couldn’t see any women promoting it. I don’t think I’d ever met another chick who’d done building. So I thought, ‘nah I can’t do that because I’m female’. 

“But my dad told me to give it a go. And then it was reassuring when I went to Unitec and there were actually other girls in my class. That was kinda nice.”

Now that she’s working in the industry, the 22-year-old has discovered a whole network of women builders who are keen to help each other out.

“There are a lot of online groups to support women who are struggling or having second thoughts about becoming builders. And there are a lot of people posting on those groups asking if anyone needs help, or giving their perspective on things. That’s nice to have a group to back you up.”

Brenna’s boss Joel Macreadie, owner of Macreadie Builders, says she’s quickly growing in her ability on the building site. 

“She’s got a good thirst for knowledge. She obviously loves building, and she’s really building her knowledge-base quickly. She asks a lot of questions, which you have to do when you’re an apprentice.”


Adding to the team

Brenna says that although some contractors who come to the building site treat her a bit differently to her male colleagues, she’s accepted and supported by her boss and workmates.

Brenna was the first woman tradie Joel has hired, but he’s since taken on another into his team of six. 

“I was keen to get some women into our workforce to bring a different element to everything,” says Joel. “

Having a mix of men and women is popular with clients, he says. 

“I think having women on the team makes a company feel a bit more trustworthy. Clients have quite often said: ‘It’s great to see you hiring women’. I’ve had that comment quite a few times.”

“What we’ve found is our clients quite like seeing women on site. It also settles the guys down a bit with things like language, and it just encourages the good practice that you want within your company.”


A different approach

Brenna, who is part Samoan, says she often approaches tasks differently to the men on site. 

“To be honest, sometimes I bring a completely different perspective to the guys, in terms of how we’ll lift something or how to work something out. Also, I’m quite particular about the finishing of things and I think a lot of women are like that as well.”

Joel has also noticed his female employees tend to work more carefully and produce high-quality results.

“Brenna’s got a good eye for detail and she’s a good worker. In general, a guy’s mentality can be a bit ‘smash it up’ and get the job done, whereas the women tend to be a bit more meticulous. So, Brenna definitely brings a bit more of that to the table, and thinking things through more thoroughly,” he says.

Physical strength is an advantage in the building trade, and Brenna says being on the smaller side can mean you need to improvise.

“There are things we lift that are heavier than me. But I think of other ways around it. So, I’ll find a way to prop or lever it up, instead of breaking my back trying to lift something I can’t.” 

But at the same time, it’s worth remembering that strength isn’t necessarily about gender – there are smaller men who also struggle with lifting things, she says. 

“I think it comes down to working on your weaknesses, but also embracing your strengths. Just embracing who you are, ‘cos everyone’s going to be slightly different.”

Making it happen

Towards the end of her pre-trades course at Unitec in 2018, Brenna’s MPTT navigator set up a few introductions to employers, who focused on commercial building. Not one to sit on the sidelines, Brenna also did her own job search, which helped her find her ideal apprenticeship.

“In my head I’d always wanted to work for a company that does residential work. My dad’s got his own company and he encouraged me to find something local and with a small group of people. 

“I ended up going on Facebook and posting to see if my family and friends knew of anyone looking for an apprentice. And then a family friend put my name forward because my now-employer was working at their house.”

Soon after, Brenna was at her friend’s house meeting her future boss.

“The company said they’d give me a trial to see how it goes, and I’ve never left since then. This is my third year with the company. 

“They were supportive from the get-go, so I felt pretty lucky. He’s a cool boss. His wife is quite involved too and she’s great to have as a support person.”

The team often have two or three jobs on the go at once, which they tackle in pairs.

“I feel like I’ve progressed forward a lot because I’ve done an awful lot of different things. I’ve had a bit of a taster of everything.” 


Looking to the future

Brenna is now well on her way to getting qualified, with her apprenticeship due to finish next year. 

Although she loves being on the tools, she has a five- to 10-year plan to move into a leadership role and eventually start her own business. 

“My dad has said I can take over his company and he kind of suggested it’d be kind of cool to do an all-female building and construction company. So I might do that. It’s not about trying to get rid of all the guys, but it would be something different.”

Brenna found her willingness to work hard and put her all into the job has served her well in the workplace.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

“I’m not competitive, but I’m determined to prove myself in everything I do. So, I might struggle with something but I’ll push to make it work. 

“Even if it’s just digging a hole and it sucks and it’s muddy, I’ll always try to do my best.”

With a great team and work she loves, Brenna is grateful for the opportunities her MPTT scholarship has opened up for her.

“I like the atmosphere on the building site. I’m pretty lucky that the people I work with make it a really enjoyable place. And seeing the progress of each job, and the clients being so happy, is really awesome.”

More and more wahine are joining the trades industry and learning skills that are in high demand. Want to join them? Find out more about being a woman in the trades, and check out these stories of other Māori and Pasifika women in the industry:

  • Young mum Toni Rhind, who’ll be ‘fighting off job offers’ once she’s qualified, according to her boss.
  • Flora Rivers, who was the first woman on her construction team and loves getting her hands dirty with practical work.
  • Automotive apprentice Elaine Pereira, who found attitude and work ethic are way more important than physical strength.

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