By Mikayla van Loon
Empowering women to take the leap into a career in the trades industry is what Empowered Women in Trades CEO Hacia Atherton set out to do with a two week pilot program.
While she was hopeful the program would be a success, the results exceeded expectations when celebrating the last day with a networking breakfast for the 11 participants on Friday 1 April at Lilydale’s Box Hill Institute.
“This is our first inaugural program, the Experience Trades Program and we had some incredibly courageous and brave women step completely outside of their comfort zone,” Ms Atherton said.
Seeing the skill shortage in trade based industries, as well as female financial hardship, Ms Atherton said she could see a gap that needed to be filled.
“The incredible thing about women and we’ve seen this through these programs, when they come together as a community, amazing things happen,” she said.
Yarra Ranges Council mayor Jim Child reflected these sentiments and said as some who began a trade himself in 1966 with 500 other men, seeing women take on trades now is such a parallel but a good one.
“To see this now empowering women to enter trades is just so wonderful,” he said.
“As far as Yarra Ranges is concerned, we welcome that. We’re looking at an industry which is our second biggest industry. It’s huge and we’re crying out for people to be joining trades and why shouldn’t a woman join a trade?”
For people like 28-year-old Audrey McKeon, having studied chemistry at university and entering a career in her chosen field, she began to find it “boring”.
“It was just repetitive and I’m a really hands-on person. I like to be doing something, I like to be challenged and it just wasn’t really that so I said, ‘Ok, I need to find something else’,” she said.
Originally from Ireland, Ms McKeon had been travelling around Australia where the construction industry had always intrigued her, although she felt there was a gap in how to get started as a woman.
“It just seemed totally out of reach for me because people would say ‘just go and do it’ and I was like but ‘how do I go and do it?,” she said.
Women like Tasha Komene who is in her forties and Lizzie Price in her thirties, had both made careers in residential support and nursing but always had a curiosity about trades.
“As much as I love nursing, I love hands-on stuff… I would never have done this on my own back by going ‘oh, I’m gonna just ring up a TAFE and find out what apprenticeships there are’ because I’ve got no idea but this has really opened up options,” Ms Price said.
“I’ve always thought that I want to do things myself, I don’t want to pay a tradie, so I teach myself through YouTube how to build things and how to renovate things. I’ve always wanted to go into the trades but I didn’t know how to get into it,” Ms Komene said.
All three women said initially they had no idea of the pathways and options available through the different trades they learnt about, being plumbing, automotive, carpentry and electrical but now the doors have really opened up to them and they are considering the various jobs.
“I personally would love to and they’ve shown us different areas if you didn’t particularly want to go and do an apprenticeship or work on the tools, they’ve given us so much information of other ways you could work in the industry but not being a tradesperson,” Ms McKeon said.
Ms Komene, Ms McKeon and Ms Price each said they had planned on potentially pursuing a career in carpentry but since learning about the other trades it has expanded their view of work in the trades.
“I’m a bit undecided on which direction I want to take because it’s opened up a whole lot of possibilities,” Ms Komene said.
Eric Jones Stair Building’s HR manager Sandra Marinacci-Orbach said it was a challenging time to find apprentices but she had seen interest from women spike, something very positive in the joinery industry.
“In the last 12 months I’ve been approached by a lot of females who are actually applying for apprenticeships, which is really good,” she said.
“So out of 16 apprentices we now have five women and that’s from the age of 19 to 22.”
The two week program run by EWIT was not only focused on the trades but on confidence and human skills, something Ms McKeon encouraged other women to try out.
“Whatever it is you’re interested in, just give it a shot because you’ve got nothing to lose by going and trying it. If you decide it’s not for you, then you’ve at least learned something, you can rule that out but you don’t know until you try.”