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.”