Most people want to be in demand in their career – but how do you get there? Mechanical engineering apprentice Toni Rhind is sure to be sought after once she’s certified, says her boss Eddie Green. But that doesn’t mean the road was easy. In fact, Toni tried several careers before finding the right fit, and had to make the tough call to leave a good job in order to get an apprenticeship.

Apprentice and young mum Toni Rhind will be “fighting off job offers” once she’s certified, reckons her boss.

Eddie Green, who oversees Toni’s work at Pacific Steel in Auckland, was impressed with Toni’s work ethic and motivation from the start.

“Toni’s a role model. Her schoolwork and block course is always up to date. She adds a lot of value to our business and she’s always been outstanding. If she wants help, she’ll put her hand up. Toni is definitely delivering all the time.”

He says Toni will be in high demand when she’s finished her apprenticeship.

“She’s going to have a lot of choices. Whether we hang on to her or not will remain to be seen, but she won’t have to worry about finding somewhere to work.”

Joining forces

Around a year ago, Pacific Steel was looking for a female apprentice to join its mostly male team. But with mechanical engineering traditionally being a male-dominated field, Eddie had difficulty finding the right person.

 

Toni working on machinery at Pacific Steel’s Wire Mill (left) and with her boss, Eddie Green (right).

“We’ve got a big diversity plan, and at that time I was tasked with finding us a female apprentice. But there was hardly anyone around,” says Eddie, who is maintenance superintendent at Pacific Steel’s wire mill and manages the company’s apprenticeship training scheme.

Eventually, Eddie found Toni through Competenz – a partner of MPTT – after she’d approached them looking for an apprenticeship.

“As soon as I met her and talked to her, I knew she was exactly what we’re looking for,” says Eddie. “To be honest, I couldn’t hire her quick enough – I just had to get her on board. And it’s worked out really well.

“She absolutely fit what we were looking for, not just with getting a woman into the trades, but also because of her motivation and her skillset.”

Engineering her success

After having her son at age 16, Toni began looking for a career. But it took a while to find the right fit.

She did the first year of a nursing degree, then switched to sports massage for a few years. She then became a personal trainer and fitness instructor but although it paid the bills, she knew it wasn’t what she wanted to do long-term.

Inspired by her handyman grandfather, Toni decided to look into mechanical engineering.

“I was already quite good with my hands and I liked having a go at fixing things. I knew I couldn’t work in an office.”

Support system

Toni (Ngāpuhi and Tainui) also qualified for an MPTT scholarship that offered financial and practical support.

MPTT trainees like Toni get more than just free course fees. They also get one-on-one mentoring and career advice, as well as help finding work and getting an apprenticeship.

Toni, 26, says this ongoing support was a major reason she chose to join the MPTT programme.

“I’ve noticed a lot of people that go through the pre-trades haven’t had much support going forward with their career. And something I felt really helped me is that I had very strong support from MPTT.”

Toni’s relationship with MPTT started when she was looking at learning a trade. It was then that she met Naomi Tito, MPTT relationship manager at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT).

“When I was looking into my course, Naomi told me about MPTT. She was very friendly and helpful, and gave me a lot of information about what support I could get and where I could continue training after I’d finished at MIT.”

Measurable progress

Toni found her first mechanical engineering job while still doing her pre-trades course at MIT.

With her sights set on getting certified, she asked her boss for an apprenticeship, but eventually had to look at other options.

“I had a job and I thought it would lead to an apprenticeship. But once I’d finished my pre-trades course, it didn’t really look like my boss was going to be able to offer me an apprenticeship. So I found an apprenticeship with another company.”

That company was Pacific Steel. Eddie says he was impressed by Toni’s drive to get certified, particularly because apprentices temporarily get paid less than other employees until they are qualified.

“To walk away from a pretty well-paying job and to take that leap, that couldn’t be easy,” says Eddie. “I did speak to her about the money and how she’d make ends meet but she had a real plan and it was a good plan. I liked how motivated she was and how keen she was to do it.”

Now a year into her three-year apprenticeship, Toni is loving her work.

“I enjoy being challenged all the time. When I go to work, there’s always something different to do each day. My job is to help maintain the machinery at Pacific Steel, like fixing breakdowns to get the production line going again. We do quite a bit of welding and fixing broken equipment.”

For Toni, changing careers was a way to open up her career options and give her more choices in life.

 

One of the things Toni loves about her job is the variety of tasks she gets to tackle — no two days are the same.

“It was about career opportunity. My long-term goal is to become a contractor. I’d like to be my own boss so I can choose my hours and what jobs I work on. Once I finish my apprenticeship, I’ll be looking to get more experience before eventually going out on my own.”

Formula for success

Many parents find it challenging to juggle work and family life. But for Toni, what made it possible was having the support of her whānau.

“I’ve got both my parents around to support me, and my sisters. So it was only when my son was sick or he had a school trip on that I’d try and take some time off work.”

Having support at work is also important to Toni, and she’s found her team at Pacific Steel provides this.

“I work with a supervisor and a number of workers, so there’s always support there. There’s always someone to talk to if you have any problems in the workplace.”

Although mechanical engineering is still a male-dominated field, Toni hasn’t come across difficulties as a woman in this trade.

“Where I’m working, they treat women just like they treat the men. I think sometimes men underestimate women’s ability to do physical jobs, but actually women can do all of those physical things too.”

Eddie is passionate about encouraging women to succeed in the trades, and says some lingering stereotypes are the only problem.

“I’ve been in engineering for around 39 years now, and what I find hard is people who have a job that needs doing and automatically go to one of the males. But why not stop and think and give that job to one of the women? Toni is equally as capable as any of the men we’ve got here now or have ever had.”

Toni encourages other women who are interested in the trades to follow their dreams, and to take advantage of all the help they can get from others along the way.

“Give it a go, and don’t be intimidated because you’ll have a lot of support behind you.”

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