27 May, 2021
At TAFE NSW Tamworth, three young women are leading the way in the push for females to break into the male-dominated building industry.
In Head Teacher Grant Bowden’s 20 years as a carpentry teacher, he has never welcomed as many female first-year apprentices into his classroom at one time.
Zoe Fleming, Bek Boschma and Chelsea Elton have joined 45 males in his classroom to study a Certificate III in Carpentry. All working for local builders, the three are enjoying the practical hands-on nature of their training.
“It’s refreshing to see more women choosing to make carpentry their career,” Mr Bowden said.
According to the Australian Government Job Outlook report, women currently make up only 1 per cent of carpenters.
The NSW Government is paving the way for women and mature workers to take up trades, with a $57.4 million commitment for a new Trades Skills Pathways Centre in the 2020-21 NSW Budget and a Built for Women fee-free training program.
The three young women said their fellow male apprentices have welcomed them, and and they are enjoying the experience of working in the construction field.
A love of working on practical projects rather than behind a desk led all three to the industry.
“Timber is my happy place and I’m really enjoying the course and learning a lot,” Chelsea, 18, from Bingara, said.
Chelsea built a desk and chair last year as her HSC major work in timber. Now she uses these for her building industry studies. Alongside her apprenticeship, she is also studying a Diploma of Project Management with the Master Builders Association.
At 160cm tall, she says being ‘vertically challenged’ can sometimes come in handy in a field where some might prefer taller employees.
“I wasn’t going to let it stop me achieving my dreams and sometimes it’s an advantage,” she said. “Recently, we renovated a house and being short made it easy for me to get under the house and work on the piers.”
Gunnedah’s Zoe Fleming, 20, always wanted to get into a trade, but wasn’t sure which one. Last year, when she heard local firm Waycot Builders was considering employing an apprentice, she approached the builder. After a trial, Builder Wayne Chambellant said she could start as an apprentice in 2021.
Mr Chambellant has given his female apprentice a challenge – to beat the boys at their own game by excelling in her studies at TAFE NSW.
“She’s a good apprentice who listens and absorbs, and because we do a whole range of projects, she’s going to pick up a wide range of skills and experience,” he said.
While Chelsea and Zoe move onto the second year of their apprenticeship in 2022, fellow apprentice Bek Boschma, 16, has chosen a more flexible option, and will complete the first year of her apprenticeship over two years.
A student at Carinya Christian School, Bek’s ambition to attain her HSC wasn’t going to get in the way of an apprenticeship when opportunity came knocking towards the end of Year 10.
“I did a week’s work experience with builder Peter Downie last year,” she said.
“Midway through the week, he offered me an apprenticeship.
“I didn’t want to miss out on doing my HSC, so I’ve chosen a bit of both – I work for my boss one day per week and on weekends or holidays, attend TAFE NSW classes for three days every third week and am at school the rest of the time.”
“It’s a heavy load especially as my school subjects include extension maths and physics, but I love it, and everyone from both TAFE NSW and my school have been really supportive.”
All three young women are united in their encouragement to any other women who might be thinking about entering a male-dominated field.
“If it’s what you really want to do, don’t let being one of only a few females put you off,” Zoe said.
“Just go for it and do it.”
To find out more about the range of study options available at TAFE NSW including construction courses, visit www.tafensw.edu.au or call 131 601.
Media contact: Jenny Tinworth, TAFE NSW Communications Specialist, mobile 0411 443 555.