Women are working it in the trades

Female trades trainees at NZMA
Wāhine Māori and Pasifika are breaking down stereotypes and building futures.

At NZMA, Dalice, Shalei, Mereana and Ngatamaine are women who are stepping up in their steelcaps to learn a trade. They’re backed by a supportive learning environment, inspired by female tutors and passionate about developing their skills. They told us about their experience so far and offered encouragement to other women thinking about the trades.  

According to these wāhine, change is coming to the old stereotype that trades are male-dominated.  

When Dalice Kareko wondered about learning a trade, one of her first questions to NZMA was whether other women were studying. She was surprised to find out that more than half the class was female. She’s also realised that the work is so varied that it’s easier to hold your own than expected.

“It’s cool to be able to read a plan literally off the wall of the building and interpret it into a real-life project.”


Malice Kareko is studying Level 3 Construction at NZMA
Dalice Kareko is studying Level 3 Construction at NZMA with the help of a scholarship from
Māori and Pasifika Trades Training.

It’s a profession with potential

Dalice decided to learn construction to set herself up with a profession and options. She said she looked ahead and realised she wanted more from life than turning up for a shift. In particular, she wanted a skill that she could turn into a career.

“I just want to step out beyond the usual jobs and office work to do something outdoorsy.”  

Tutor Jasmine Lolo wishes more young women knew how many options there are. “The trades are about so much more than building… you can take almost any path,” she said. Jasmine gave the example of health and safety specialists or site managers – these roles are far different to the ‘hammer and nail’ people might think of.

And the earning potential is attractive too. Mereana Panui saw how much builders were earning and decided that it shouldn’t just be for the boys. 

“It looked pretty fun! Right now, I’m just enjoying it, but it’s also about the end game: It’s a good career.”


Gaining skills is satisfying

The wāhine we spoke to all talked about how rewarding it is to learn how to use tools and create things. 

Ngatamaine Tipukoroa is studying electrical at NZMA, and it suits her because she likes to work with her hands. “I like to challenge myself, and the challenge is good. Not many people back home in the Islands have the skills to work in electrical, so what I’m learning will mean I can really help. Together we’ll be able to build homes.”

Shalei Seumanutafa gets a kick knowing she can hold her own when it comes to using tools and looks forward to having something to show for a day’s work. 

“I love the idea of actually being able to see your work take shape in front of you. I know people in construction who can point out huge apartments and buildings and say, ‘Yeah, I worked on that.’  And I will be able to say that as well! 

Shalei is excited about starting her apprenticeship because she knows that it will build her skills and satisfaction further.

“I want to move up. And I just like learning.

“An apprenticeship gives you the chance to work right alongside more experienced workers, get discipline and have the interest of different sites to go to.”

And then there’s the satisfaction of building things rather than buying them. I can build things for my chickens or guinea pigs and fix stuff around the house. And I get the reward of knowing I did that,” said Shalei.

Shalei is another MPTT scholarship recipient preparing for a career in construction at NZMA Trades.

Putting your passion first

Since starting at NZMA, Shalei knows she’s exactly where she wants to be. At high school, she enjoyed building but the classes were full of boys. She ended up switching to sewing. However, after working in an office, she knew her heart was in the trades. Having a bit of life experience made it easier to step into something new.

“I know who I am now, and I feel more comfortable because I know this is what I really want to do.” She advises others to be true to themselves as well. 

“I’ve been feeling like I wanted to do trades since school, and now I’m here, and it’s way cooler. So, it’s worth thinking about what makes you happy. Do what you want to do, and not just what others think you should be doing. Follow your gut!”


There’s a sense of support

It’s clear that NZMA has created an environment where women can thrive in their training. 

Mereana said,  “I wasn’t expecting lots of females to be in my class, but there are heaps. And there are a lot of age groups too.

“We’re working in smaller groups to build our cabins, and I’m the team leader. So, it’s soft skills that we’re building too.”

“I was worried people might treat me differently as a female. I was ready to have to work extra hard to prove myself. But it wasn’t really like that. The tutors are all good and super supportive.” 

Dalice said having female tutors makes a big difference. “They get it. And they show that there are real prospects and possibilities.”

It won’t be long before Dalice, Shalei, Mereana and Ngatamaine are out working and inspiring others to do the same. Ngatamaine is already looking forward to a prestigious apprenticeship with Hawkins. She knows getting qualified will set her up for long term success, and she hopes more females will follow. 

“As women, we’re proving to everyone that we can make it. So don’t be afraid to put your name down and step up for trades. Follow your heart and keep going.”

Mereana Panui, Construction trainee and MPTT scholarship recipient currently doing her pre-trades at NZMA.

Female builder brings something new to the team

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.

How to deal with setbacks

Learning a trade takes hard work, and you’ll need to overcome obstacles to get there. That’s why it’s important to be able to bounce back when things don’t go to plan. MPTT trainee Stevi’Lee Furness has had her share of setbacks, but that hasn’t stopped her moving forward. Find out how the mechanical engineering trainee and single mum has overcome having her studies interrupted by pregnancy, and the challenges of getting her career started while raising her son.

When Stevi’Lee Furness began learning a trade, life threw her a curveball.

She was a top student in her welding and fabrication course at Unitec, but had to pull out just weeks before the end of the programme because she was 8 ½ months pregnant.

“It was frustrating not being able to finish. At that point, I’d worked so hard, and then it was a full-stop. But I was so glad I did the course anyway. I was happy to be keeping myself busy and applying myself, looking forward to a better future.”

Despite the setback in her training, Stevi’Lee chose to focus on the positives.

“I acknowledged that this was me moving on to the next step, which was motherhood. Going through that awesome part of my life, too. But I still had this drive that my child needs a reliable, dependable mother who can support him. I had to figure out a way to make good money and love my job,” she says.

“Having a baby gave me that extra drive. I was thinking, ‘You’ve got to do this – your child depends on your education and future jobs’.”

After having her son Caezar (now two years old), Stevi’Lee was back in full-time study five months later. Unitec had made changes to its curriculum in the meantime, so her welding and fabrication training was now part of a mechanical engineering course, which she completed in June 2019.

Her MPTT Navigator, Tu Nu’uali’itia, says Stevi’Lee’s motivation to return to study is an inspiration for other trainees who face obstacles.

“Her greatest quality is resilience – the ability to bounce back from a challenge in her journey to achieving her goal. She’s a real inspiration for single mums who are doing it tough, because of the future she wants for herself and her baby.”

Stevi'Lee with her navigator Tu Nu’ualitia
Tu Nu’ualitia, left, supported Stevi’Lee through her challenges and believes she is an inspiration to other taiura.

Mother nature

When Stevi’Lee first returned to study, she had support from her mum to care for Caezar.

“He stayed with my mum for the days and nights I was studying. It was painful. I spent so much time away from my child. I didn’t have a vehicle yet either, so it was really annoying because I couldn’t pick him up and drop him off.”

It was a struggle to be away from Caezar, she says.

“It sucks to sacrifice that time with him. But at the same time, sometimes you’ve just got to do it. In my position, I’m mum and dad. I’ve got to be the bread-winner and the caregiver.

“I sacrificed so much time with my child, but at the same time, it drove me to keep doing it. Because I can be there for my child but I’m useless if I can’t support him financially in his future. I think I balanced it well, and here I am, finished.”

After having Caezar, Stevi’Lee lived with her mum for the first few months and then moved into her own place.

The 25-year-old is grateful for the support from her mum, which helped her return to study and get her mechanical engineering certificate.

“You do need good support to raise a child while studying or working full time. It just depends how badly you want it. Some mums won’t want to, and that’s okay. It does make a lot of sense having that support – it really helped me.”

Foundational support

As an MPTT trainee, Stevi’Lee also received support through a scholarship and one-on-one mentoring.

“It was honestly so helpful. Plus, it was really cool to go around and say, ‘Guess what? I got a scholarship’,” she says.

Being awarded the scholarship added to her motivation to study and work hard.

“The scholarship isn’t just free money; it’s an incentive because it’s telling you that you’re worth it. Because that’s exactly what it meant to me. Apart from having less of a student loan, a scholarship is something people get from doing really well, and you get picked out of a certain few.

“Being offered that scholarship through MPTT, man, that was awesome. It made me feel really good. Everybody should feel like that.”

The personal support offered by her MPTT Navigator was also valuable.

“I love Tu – he’s awesome. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He’s straight forward. He doesn’t make false promises and he makes it clear that you have to work for it.”

Driving ambition

Having finished her pre-trade course, Stevi’Lee has faced another obstacle – not having her own transport.

“I’m looking for a job in mechanical engineering, but I’ve needed a car. I’ve had people like my lecturer say, ‘Look, I can refer you on to an employer, but you need to be able to get all the way out to Mt Wellington’. So, I told myself, I really need a car and there’s no other way around it. So I just went and got a part-time job so I could save up for that. I’ve now bought my car, so progress is coming to fruition in my trades journey.

Stevi'Lee Furness
Stevi’Lee has her sights set on becoming a project manager one day, and providing the best possible future for her son.

“Right now I’m working at a local bar, even though I’m not qualified for hospo. But I worked my butt off and proved I can do it. I was quite fortunate to get that job, and it’s close to home. It’s just the next step in putting myself into that mechanical engineering job.

“I would love to do my apprenticeship, and I’m hopeful I can get into project management one day.”

Tu says it’s great to see a young MPTT trainee aiming for a leadership position in the trades.

“It would be a really positive outcome if she did go down that path, because it’s actually leaping forward in her career and showing a lot of ambition. The trades sector needs many more people who believe in their own value and worth to excel and become leaders in the workplace.

“Importantly, our Māori and Pacific people need to see examples of tauira like Stevi’Lee excelling, to be inspired in their own life aspirations.”

Stevi-Lee says it’s important to stay positive when you face setbacks in your training.

“Accept the curve ball. Don’t think that because you’re here right now, you can’t be somewhere else in the future.

“Don’t get disheartened when you come to a road block. It just means you have to figure out a new way around. Where there’s a will there’s a way. You just have to get through whatever the situation is.

“You have to keep looking out for opportunities and don’t give up.”

Chance encounter sparks trades career

After studying marketing and working her way into hotel management in Samoa, a lucky encounter saw Flora Rivers take a leap across the Pacific and into the trades. The construction apprentice and MPTT scholar was recently the keynote speaker at the Women in Trades Mini Conference, where she shared her inspiring story with other women looking to join the industry.

Flora’s trades career began unexpectedly, thanks to a broken chair.

She was managing a hotel in Samoa when a guest accidentally damaged the chair, and Flora decided to attempt fixing it.

“And I did. I fixed it,” says Flora. “I was so proud of myself. It looked sturdy and nearly perfect. Except the same guest came around and sat on the chair again, this time completely ruining it. So I had no choice but to throw it away.”

But a couple named Janice and Craig, who were staying at the hotel, saw Flora’s efforts and asked to speak with her urgently.

Flora visited their hotel unit, unsure of what to expect. When she walked in, she was stunned to see a neat spread of tools laid out on the bed, the floor and the kitchen counter.

“They told me they’d seen my attempts to fix the chair, then asked what I thought of the tools in front of me. They hoped I liked them because they were all for me.”

Craig, who was a tradie, then picked up each tool and told her its name and how to use it.

For the rest of Craig’s stay at the hotel, Flora spent her spare time learning from him. They crawled under local houses to inspect pipes and search for defects. They fixed small issues, and created a plan for the bigger jobs to be done in the future.

“Some of those big jobs I hope to one day be able to fly back home and fix myself,” she says.

Family matters

Flora soon began looking into formal construction training. She eventually moved to New Zealand to study at Unitec with help from an MPTT scholarship.

Coming from a life in Samoa where she was surrounded by loved ones, a big challenge for Flora is being apart from her family.

“The most difficult thing for me is having to be away from my family every single day. Not a single day can pass without me wishing I could open the door when I get home from work and see them all there.”

With Flora being “the third stubborn daughter out of five”, her parents soon came around to supporting her unexpected career choice.

“This is not what my parents had envisioned for me. But they supported me when I took the leap alone to New Zealand to pursue a trades career, and continue to support me in my apprenticeship with encouragement and always believing in me.”

Flora discovered her future employer Johnstone Construction at the Women In Trades 2018 conference, where they were hosting a ‘Have A Go’ excavator activity. Impressed by their support of gender diversity in the trades, she eventually joined the team and now holds the title of their first female site crew member.

Women’s work

With the trades still being a male-dominated industry, the MPTT scholarship and Unitec course helped Flora meet other women tradies.

“It was great meeting other girls who were doing the same thing. Knowing I wasn’t alone and seeing other women who were interested in the trades was a huge boost.”

Flora, 25, is now an apprentice at Johnstone Construction, the company’s first female site crew member.

She says women joining the trades should be prepared for some challenges, but shouldn’t try to become someone they’re not.

“You will be forcibly pushed out of your comfort zone, mainly because the industry is still very heavily dominated by men. But don’t worry, you will get used to being surrounded by them and their banter,” she says.

“If I have one recommendation, it’s that you don’t have to pretend to be a male; you can still be a woman and use the tools. You don’t have to try and act or speak the way men do. You can be true to you and be just as good as anyone else – if not better.”

Flora, right, at last year’s Women in Trades Conference

Go figure

As a woman, Flora quickly spotted room for improvement in the gear she had to wear on site.

“The workwear is all geared towards men and their figures, not ours. That, of course, is understandable, but the times are starting to slowly change,” she says.

“Because of my background, I have started to design, and my mother is helping me sew, proper workwear attire for women: work shirts and trousers that suit female figures, and have the required fluro and safety elements. So maybe one day, there will be more options on the market for women in trades to dress comfortably, safely and practically.”

Flora is currently testing her designs on the job, and she hopes to make them available to other women tradies next year.

“It’s quite technical. I want to make sure the pieces last, as well as fit women’s bodies. First I wear it on site to see if it tears. If it does, I go back to mum and talk about it over video so she can make improvements using the right materials.”

Constructing a career

Flora is loving life as a tradie, and enjoys getting outdoors to do hands-on work.

“My office space is forever changing, and is 10 times larger than any fancy enclosed box in a high-rise building. And one day, I’ll probably be able to say I helped build one of those buildings.

“I enjoy being able to get dirty in the best way at work. This is one career where the phrase ‘my blood, sweat and tears’ are all true, and I’ve learned to love it.”

The variety in her job means there’s always something new to capture her interest.

“I love being able to do yesterday’s hard job a lot easier today, and being able to continuously grow and progress in a field without getting bored, because every day will be a challenge.”

‘She’ll be fighting off job offers’

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.”

Fueling change in the automotive industry

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.

Women Constructing New Zealand

10 May 2018 – NZMA hosted their first Women in Construction breakfast today, with a group of high achieving female construction talent inspiring NZMA students.

The aim of the breakfast was to create supportive networks to empower, educate and encourage students to launch their career in trades. Further breakfasts are planned.
Leading the panel, and facilitating discussion was Erica Cumming, who is the Advocate for Women at BCITO.

READ FULL STORY HERE.

Mums in the trades

Having mouths to feed is a powerful motivator to work hard and build a successful career. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we share the stories of three mums building their trades careers, and we look at why hiring parents can be good for business.

The trades industry offers great opportunities for mothers who want a stable and rewarding career.

Mums with trades skills can expect to earn a good living to support their families. There’s a range of well-paid roles available in the growing industry, and statistics show women in the trades get paid the same as men for equal work.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we look at why employers value parents as part of a trades team, and share the experiences of mums who are working in the industry.

Added motivation

When it comes to needing a great reason to get to work in the morning, having children to support is hard to beat.

Sarah Peraua

Sarah Peraua, who has a seven-year-old son and one-month-old twin boys, says her children help her to be even more driven to succeed in her career.

“It definitely gives me motivation to work harder for my children and my family. I want to set a good example for my kids.”

Sarah’s employer Amon Johnson, director of Complete Build, says hiring parents has advantages for businesses.

“From an employer’s point of view, I find that people who have children are more reliable. Obviously they’ve got to support their children, so their motivation to get to work can be a lot greater than that of people who don’t have children.”

Camille McKewin, mother to six-year-old Madelin, was driven to start her own business after training in the trades. This allowed her to have more control over her schedule and spend more time with her daughter.

Camille McKewen

“That’s the good thing about having your own business. Working for yourself, you don’t have to work nine to five. It’s all on your terms.”

Being flexible

Of course, having children does come with challenges for parents in the trades.

A common issue is that trades jobs can have earlier starting times than the traditional 9am-5pm schedule.

Elaine Pereira, who is married with children aged two and four, needed to negotiate her working hours to allow for dropping her son at daycare in the mornings.

“They let me know the hours they needed me to work, and I told them I needed to talk to my family because a 7.30am start wasn’t going to work for me. My kid’s daycare doesn’t open until 8am, so that’s the earliest I can drop him off, which means I won’t be at work until 8.30.”

Her employer Trucks and Trailers, where Elaine is now working as an apprentice, offered her a job with a slightly later start than usual.

“They just asked whether I’d be able to come in early on the odd occasion if they needed me. And I’m happy to be flexible if they do need me to come in, especially because they’ve been flexible with me. It’s worked out well.”

Amon says all employment relationships require a bit of give and take.

“At the end of the day, that’s life, and you can’t expect a parent with a sick child to come to work. Employers have to be a bit flexible around parenting. I would say a large majority of employers are parents themselves, so they probably have empathy for that.”

The key to managing absent employees comes down to being organised, says Amon, who is a parent of twins.

“As long as the business has strategies to cope with things like sickness or absenteeism due to kids, it’s something that can be managed.

“The rest of the team might have to stay a bit later to meet our deadlines if someone’s away, but everyone understands that. My team is pretty good with picking up the slack if someone has to stay home with a sick child – and their co-workers who are parents do the same thing for them if they happen to be sick, so it’s really just a team thing.”

Finding support

For many mums, whānau support to help care for their children is key to balancing work and family life.

Sarah says her parents have been there to look after her eldest son when she’s needed to work.

“My mum picks up my son after she finishes work so I can continue working until five o’clock. She sometimes takes him to morning school care as well. And if I wanted to work on Saturdays, my parents would both look after him.”

Elaine shares household responsibilities with her husband to ensure she has time for her work and apprenticeship.

“When I need to do my studies he’ll look after the kids, which is fantastic. With cooking dinner, doing the washing and cleaning the house, we share that work.”

Open communication

Elaine says communicating openly with your employer is especially important for parents.

“Just being open when you’re applying for a job, telling them straight-up what things you can and can’t do, and having that open line of communication with my employer really helped me.

“They know that if my kids are sick and I can’t get anyone else to come pick them up, then I’ll have to leave, and they’re really good with that.”

Amon says with good communication, an employer can better plan around any constraints in the employee’s schedule.

“When I hire people I tell them that if they need to pick their child up at a certain time each day, let me know at the beginning so I can fit that into my programme. As long as I know about it, I can make sure I don’t book them to be working at those times.”

He adds that all employees require some flexibility whether they’re parents or not – from sick days to time off for a dentist appointment.

“For example, I’ve got guys here who are Jehovah’s Witnesses who have one day a week off. So I know they are a four-day worker, and I don’t try to take on work for a five-day worker. A lot of it comes down to organisation.”

The business case for hiring parents:

    • Reliable workers:

Parents can have more experience with meeting their obligations and taking their responsibilities seriously. This helps them to be reliable at work, too.

    • Committed employees:

Parents have mouths to feed, so they’ll be motivated to work hard and have stable employment, says Amon Johnson, director of Complete Build. “From a business perspective, I prefer to employ parents because of that motivation and drive.”

    • Provide support:

By hiring parents, you’ll be helping them support their children, says Amon. “From a moral standpoint, I’d like parents to have a job to be able to support their families.”

Auckland polytechnic sees intake increase for female electricians

By Kymberlee Fernandes, Manukau Courier

More women are studying to get into the trades, with a career as an electrician being a popular choice at one polytechnic.

Marama Amber de Rungs is the only girl in her class of electrical engineering, Level 4.
On the other hand, Sela Pohiva’s class has six boys and five girls studying electrical engineering, Level 3.

They are among many students who are training at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) under the Māori & Pasifika Trades Training (MPTT) scholarship. MPTT has had a total of 1,632 trainees in Auckland come through since 2014, of which 433 were female.

Sela Pohiva, 19, says it was a “last minute” career choice.

“Everyone talks about how we don’t have enough skilled tradespeople, and I want to change that.”

“I want to help around South Auckland,” the former Papakura High student says.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction in solving circuits and doing the wiring. I really like the mathematical side of it.”

When she tells people what she’s doing, she’s often responded with a “really?”.

“I don’t mind it. It pushes me more,” she says. “If you definitely want to do it, don’t let people’s opinion hold you back,” Pohiva advises other girls contemplating a career in the trades.

For Marama, 24, she was initially pretty serious about a career nursing, but, after a few setbacks and a gap year, she decided to get into electrical engineering.

Being the only girl in her class has made her even more ambitious, she says.

“You can see how it’s neutralised the class.”

She’s hoping to test the waters in the residential installation sector.

“A lot of residential employers that I’ve talked to say elderly people like women electricians. They’d rather wait a couple of months for a woman to be available than [have a] man to do the work,” she says.

Women studying electrical
Warren Mills, electrical trades lecturer at MIT is happy about the girls getting into the trade.

“It is giving us males a run for our money.”

He says the options in the electrical field are endless.

“You can get in to lighting, house wiring, industrial, mining, electronics, electric cars, solar power. Auckland is 13 per cent short of electricians in the industry.”

Lance Riesterer, general manager specialist trades and commercial at Skills, a multi-sector Industry Training Organisation (ITO) says women are “capable of excelling at all the skills needed to succeed” in the electrical trade.

“Two years after completing their apprenticeship, electricians can earn up to $54k per annum. For experienced electricians working in specialist fields, they can earn in excess of $100k per year,” Riesterer says.

MIT Electrical Trainees

 

 

* This article was originally published in the Manukau Courier and on stuff.co.nz

 

Back to her roots

Camille McKewin’s love of horticulture grew out of fond memories of gardening with her grandfather. She’s now using her skills to build a gardening business that gives her the freedom to spend plenty of time with her young daughter – who in turn is developing a keen interest in plants.

Hearing Camille McKewin talk animatedly about gardening, you’d think she was born with a passion for it.

So it’s not surprising that Camille’s whanau suspect her love of plants is in the genes. After all, her grandfather had a green thumb and tended to the many plants on the family’s property in Green Bay, Auckland.

“We had so many fruit trees – feijoas, guava, grapes, heaps of things,” says Camille, who is Australian Māori. “I really love the memories of that and all it took for my grandfather to maintain it.”

Her grandfather passed away when Camille was nine years old, but her memories of him are still strong.

“I remember being seven and eight years old, following him around the garden, learning heaps and chewing on sugar cane.”

Searching for more

Camille, now 30, tried out a few jobs – such as training to be a chef and working at a childcare centre – before she found her dream career. But when she began studying horticulture and landscaping at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), she knew she’d found her calling.

“I was always searching for more, something more stimulating. Taking up horticulture, I see the world in a whole different way. I look at plants differently, I look at food differently – I look at a lot of things differently that before I would have taken for granted.”

Once she began her training, Camille discovered the horticulture industry is much wider than she’d initially thought – from landscaping and growing plants to Māori medicine and pest control.

“I realised horticulture isn’t just about learning how to grow some potatoes. It actually opens up so many other doors.”

Philip Sutherland, one of Camille’s tutors at MIT, says she showed horticultural flair from the start.

“Camille was always engaged, interested and ready to get involved and get stuck in. She was a bit like a sponge – she just couldn’t get enough knowledge quick enough,” says Philip.

“She was confident in her ability and knowledge and prepared to back herself. That showed strength of character. She has a real can-do, go get ‘em attitude.”

Getting qualified

Camille completed an introduction to horticulture and landscaping (level 2), followed by a level 3 course on the subject. As it happened, those courses were both free.

Although she wanted to go on to complete level 4, Camille couldn’t afford the course fees.

“I’m a solo mum, so at the time I was like, ‘I really don’t want to have a student loan’.”

But then she discovered her fees would be covered by an MPTT scholarship.

“It made a huge difference. I wouldn’t have been able to take level 4 if I hadn’t gotten the scholarship. It helps a lot; it takes a lot of pressure off.”

Hands-on experience

To clock up some experience and get started in the industry, Camille began working while she was studying.

This included tending the gardens at MIT over the holidays and working in neighbourhood gardens with another horticulture student.

“We were both really keen on getting out there and making money, so I was doing garden work with her for low income earners.”

Now that she’s qualified, Camille splits her time between working on these shared projects and growing her own business.

So far, she’s found plenty of work through word-of-mouth and via local website neighbourly.co.nz.

“There are so many people looking for someone to tend to their gardens. Elderly people or those who are unable to get out there really want help in their gardens – especially when you take care in the job you’re doing.”

Family tree

One benefit of working for herself is that Camille can choose to work during school hours, allowing her to spend more time with five-year-old daughter Madelin.

“That’s the good thing about having your own business. Working for yourself, you don’t have to work nine to five. It’s all on your terms.”

Camille McKewan
Like her mum, Madelin is soaking up information about plants and how they grow.

“She’s telling her teachers about it and she thinks she knows everything now about how you plant something and why you plant it,” says Camille.

“She’s obtained some of the knowledge I have, which is great because I think it’s something this next generation really needs to take into consideration. Not many people know much about food and where it comes from. People take it for granted.”

Camille encourages other people with a curiosity about the industry to give it a go.

“We need it more than ever now that the world is changing and to feed the growing population. It’s about the knowledge and know-how of providing for ourselves, our whānau and our future. We need more people in the horticulture industry who are passionate about it.”

Young mum inspired by The Block

Sarah Peraua had never thought about becoming a builder – until she watched The Block on TV. Inspired to start a new career, Sarah is now using her skills to give back to her family and community.

Before Sarah Peraua started training to be a carpenter, the young mum from Auckland had barely swung a hammer.
 
“I wasn’t really into woodwork at school and I didn’t find it interesting. I was more into sewing,” she says. 

That all changed one evening back in 2014 when Sarah, who was out of work at the time, happened to watch The Block on television.

“As soon as I saw The Block, I thought, ‘That looks cool!’ I was really interested in seeing how everything is built, how a house comes together.”

Getting started

Sarah, a Cook Islander, looked into doing a carpentry course and heard about the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training scholarships.

“I was so happy when I got one. It gave me that extra push to make sure I finish the course. Because I’m on a scholarship I don’t want to waste that money.”

She completed her Level 4 Certificate in Applied Technology at Unitec last year – but juggling motherhood and study wasn’t easy.

“It’s been challenging and a bit hectic at times. Learning to use powertools has also been quite difficult for me.”

Family first

Pushing her forward all the time is Sarah’s desire to provide her son Ronny, aged 5, with a stable future.

“I’m pretty driven to be a role model for my son. I’m going to have early mornings and late nights, but in the end it’ll all be worth it.”

Although her parents were a bit skeptical about their daughter entering a male-dominated industry, the difference in Sarah’s confidence and mood has been obvious.

“She seems to be a lot happier now. It’s a big change really,” says dad, Ora.

Looking ahead

Sarah also dreams of using her trade to benefit others in the future. She was part of a team of trainees that volunteered their time and skills to build a retaining wall at Onehunga Primary School last October.

“It’s really nice helping others,” she says.

Fired up to work in Auckland’s booming construction sector, Sarah is now waiting to be offered a three-year apprenticeship through BCITO.

“My goal is to be a qualified builder within the next five years or so.”

And does she dream of building her own house, like on The Block?

“Probably in the next 30 years, once I’ve gained enough experience!” she says.

Women can do it

As a young woman, Kelsie McKenna faced doubts – from herself and others – when her passion for timber led her to train as a carpenter. But despite concerns about how she’d fit into the male-dominated sector, she soon discovered a “really positive atmosphere”, great workmates and hands-on work she loves.

When Kelsie McKenna decided to become a builder, there were plenty of naysayers.

“It was hard because everyone around me was saying ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do? Have you thought it through?’”

Breaking stereotypes

Being a young woman meant Kelsie faced a lot of doubts – from inside and outside – about her ability to foot it in the male-dominated trades sector. Was she strong enough? How would the men treat her?

“Those negative thoughts got to me for a while but I decided to put them aside and go for it because you only live once.”

Now more than half-way through her Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4), Kelsie wonders what all the fuss was about.

“I haven’t come across any problems at all. It’s a really positive atmosphere. The guys I work with treat me the same as all the other guys and that’s what I want. Just because I’m a female doesn’t make me special or anything.”

Kelsie, aged 19, strongly believes more women should consider a career in New Zealand’s booming trades sector.

“I think the trades is for everyone. Women can do it. I really didn’t think I could do this but I’m doing it today and I love it. I know some women think strength is an issue but you can build your strength up on the job.”

‘A passion for timber’

Kelsie’s reason for becoming a builder was pretty simple.

“I just had a passion for timber. Me and my dad have done a lot of ‘wooding’, where we go out into the forest and cut up timber and take it for firewood. I’ve always found that fun. And just doing little projects with my dad around the house, like building fences.”

Having now spent a bit of time on building sites – for example, helping build the Waiheke Sculpture Trail – Kelsie has discovered other benefits of the work.

“I love working outside and I just love working around the people in this trade, like the plumbers, electricians, and the builders. Also, I love using powertools.”

Laying the foundations

Before starting her carpentry training at Unitec in July 2016, Kelsie was living in Dunedin trying her hand at various jobs.

“I worked in a few areas like travel and tourism, then applied for the carpentry course up in Auckland thinking ‘I probably won’t get in’,” she says.

“I just had to give it a go, otherwise I’d still be in Dunedin doing what I was doing beforehand and that was boring.”

Being Māori and Samoan, Kelsie heard she might qualify for a scholarship from MPTT Auckland.

“I wasn’t even going to apply because I thought ‘I can’t get a scholarship’. It was a pretty exciting feeling and I felt very privileged because it means I’m debt free when I walk out of my course with this certificate.”

Kelsie is due to finish her Level 4 Certificate in June this year.

“After that, I want to be doing my apprenticeship. That’s the next thing. Finding an employer who will take me on.”