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Lifelong learning for
a fairer Australia

Lifelong learning for
a fairer Australia

Women trading places


Bianca Murray




Bianca Murray has discovered a passion for cabinet making. Karren Duri has realised how much she wants to be an electrician. And Maria Polodonis has a real gift when it comes to working under car bonnets.

All three are recent graduates from Thornbury Neighbourhood House’s ‘Women in Trades and Technologies’ course. Co-ordinator Sarah Derum says she’s ‘really in awe’ of the way the young women involved have developed confidence and focus on working in a trade.

Overcoming barriers

Sarah says that for women, getting into a trade is not nearly as straightforward as it is for men. Entrenched and outdated attitudes and lack of encouragement can be real barriers. 

The ten day course teaches practical skills, encourages contact with potential employers, and develops knowledge of how different 
workplaces operate. 
Confidence can also be a problem. ‘It can be intimidating working in an all male environment when you’re new and especially when you are learning something new and you’re not sure of yourself.’
In contrast, entering a trade for young men can be less complicated.
‘It seems that for young men becoming a tradie is a linear and
obvious path. For women it’s been more a case of “I’ve always
wanted to do this but didn’t know how or where to start”. So the
entry point for young women is a lot less obvious.’
The Women in Trades and Technologies course aims to provide just
such an entry point. The two week course, run during the school
holidays, develops skills and confidence in women aged 18 to 30
who are interested in a trade.

Partnerships make it work

The course is run in conjunction with Northern College of Arts and Technology (NCAT) at their trade workshops. ‘It’s an amazing, brand new facility where they teach automotive, electrical, building and construction and furniture making.

The women are taught how to use power equipment and tools and make a piece of furniture during the course. Guest tradeswomen visit to share their stories and experiences and industry visits give learners practical insights into what’s involved in particular trades. NCAT has a history of running courses for women including a ‘Girls Make It Go’ a course for women working in manufacturing.

Tailoring training for women

For the Neighbourhood House, who have a history of working with local women and as a Learn Local provider, an anticipated skills shortage in the building and construction industry seemed an ideal opportunity to look at tailored training for women.

The course has run twice – in 2012 and 2013 – in the September school holidays an ideal time as NCAT’s facilities are idle. Applicants are interested for a range of reasons. ‘They can be women who’ve decided they don’t want to sit at a desk, they might want to try doing something hands-on, or they might have a family member in a trade and they want to try something different.’

Pathways for women in trades

A combination of dedicated teaching staff, enthusiastic learners, an ‘amazing facility’ and great food made the course a winner, Sarah says. Once they’ve completed the course the women have a range of career pathways to choose from.

Karren Duri aiming for an electrical career.
Some take up a practical work placement to get real-life experience of a trade and its particular demands. They can enrol in a 10 week pre-apprenticeship course where they develop skills and confidence and contacts with local employers. 
Of the seven women who’ve completed the most recent course, four are undertaking work placements, three are enrolling in pre-apprenticeships and two will soon begin automotive and electrical apprenticeships.

A positive approach

The prospects for women in trades look rosy. ‘There’s a definite demand for apprentices in Melbourne’s northern region.’ And some people prefer female tradespeople. ‘There’s a perception that women can be more trustworthy. For example, some people feel safer having female tradies in their home. Employers say they appreciate that women tradies pay more attention to detail, are more likely to clean up their workspace and create a positive and productive work environment.’

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