Elizabeth Cruickshank had spent 12 years as a registered nurse, but she couldn’t shake her dream of being a carpenter. The 35-year-old took the bold step of changing careers in 2014 with help from an MPTT scholarship.

Elizabeth Cruickshank’s dream of being a carpenter nagged her in the most unlikely moments.

Even while using her nursing skills to care for people in the wake of Samoa’s massive 2009 tsunami, her mind was partly elsewhere.

“A lot of the time I’d be cleaning and dressing wounds but watching the rebuild happening outside. I remember thinking, ‘I wish I could be doing the rebuild instead of this’.

“I guess I’d reached burn-out; I’d worked in almost every area of nursing but I just wasn’t content.”

A new skill set

Elizabeth, who is of Samoan heritage, finally decided to take a bold step and change career in 2014, after 12 years as a registered nurse.

When she found out about the support she could get through Māori and Pasifika Trades Training, it was an added incentive to follow her dream.

“I was at the point where I was going to go back and retrain but I’d already prepared myself for the fact that I’d be living on a very limited income. So it was a massive bonus to have my fees paid for.”

Elizabeth, 35, was partly attracted to carpentry because of early memories of her father, who left for England when she was seven years old.

“He used to do renovations, and I guess there’ll always be a connection to him in that sense.”

In June she will complete Level 4 of her training at Manukau Institute of Technology, which will be followed by an apprenticeship. Her ultimate dream is to become a property developer or manager.

She enjoys the practical nature of carpentry, and working in an environment where she can make use of her skills while being trusted to do a good job.

“They treat us like employees, not like beginners. In building, you’re not going to be competent until you’ve done it. It’s completely different to nursing because instead of learning on live patients, you can learn through timber, steel and power tools. And while that can be potentially life-threatening, the danger is mostly to yourself and colleagues – which can be carefully managed.”

Elizabeth has recently moved back to live in her childhood home in Mt Roskill, where her carpentry skills are already coming in handy.

“There are a lot of things that need fixing that I wanted the practical skills to do.”

Challenging stereotypes

Working in a male-dominated industry has brought challenges, but she deals with it by getting on with the job.

“To be honest, I still come across a lot of men who would prefer me not to be there. And I don’t mind because I understand how it rattles people. I think that’s just their own limitations.”

Elizabeth makes an effort to encourage other women interested in the trades to sign up for the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training programme.

“There are quite a few female labourers on our site, and a lot of them are Pasifika and Māori. Whenever I talk to them, I ask if they’ve ever considered trades training and say they should give it a go, especially if they can have their fees paid. There are still a lot of people out there who don’t know they can get a scholarship.”