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24 June, 2022

WOMEN thriving in Trades

A growing number of women in Far North Queensland are pursuing trade careers, with regional female apprenticeship enrolments at TAFE Queensland increasing by 60% since 2018.


Women in Trade Image supplied by TAFE Queensland

Men typically dominate trade apprenticeships, but women seeking broader working opportunities, stable employment and hands-on careers are coming into the fold. 

One such individual is Tinaroo woman Leah O’Connor, 28, who had worked in several fields from mustering to tourism before enrolling in training to become an electrician. 

A second-year electrical apprentice, Ms O’Connor, attends block training at the TAFE Queensland Cairns campus. 

“After each training block, I developed more confidence going back into my workplace because I was able to use what I learned on job sites,” she said. 

Ms O’Connor, who works at Mareeba Electrical Services, said being a mature-age apprentice wasn’t as daunting as people might think. 

“People think there’s stigma around it and that you’re always at the bottom,” she said. 

“But you’ve got to start somewhere, and your employer and teachers are there to build you up.” 

Leah O’Connor

Another woman making her mark in a male-dominated industry is Cairns-based MAE Refrigeration technician Jennah Halley.

The mum-of-four began her apprenticeship in her 30s and said her work was gratifying.

“I love fixing things and making things work, whether it be a brand new install or a breakdown,” Ms Halley said.

“There is always problem-solving and fault finding involved in my job, which means that I never stop learning.

“Learning a trade takes hard work and dedication, but you’re gaining a lifelong career. I am lucky that I found something I love and get paid to do it.”

Tarzali woman Brittney Bellingham, 23, has also benefited from an apprenticeship.

As a child, an interest in hobby welding drew Ms Bellingham to enrol in boilermaking training when she completed Year 12.

Ms Bellingham finished her apprenticeship in four years and works at Norweld in Cairns.

Jennah Halley

“My TAFE Queensland training helped me because when I started, I had no experience; all I did was welding,” Ms Bellingham said.

“At TAFE, they showed me how to cut everything, mark it all out, and weld properly.

“My skill set isn’t just for work; I can also use it at home,” she said.

The three women are at the centre of a TAFE Queensland push to encourage more girls to chase their trade dreams as they grow up and to remind women that it’s never too late to pursue a career change.

It is hoped their training success will help inspire a new generation of tradeswomen and increase female representation in workshops and on job sites.

Women represent 2% or less of the national workforce in many trade areas.

Mrs Halley, 38, said she is passionate about breaking down stereotypes and encouraging more girls and women to take on a trade.

“There’s nothing that I can’t do that the guys can do at work, and probably my biggest supporters are my workmates,” Ms Halley said.

Brittney Bellingham

“So if you can find that crew and that support, go and pursue a trade because it’s rewarding and empowering as a female and as a woman and a mum.”

National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Queensland President Sheree Taylor agrees and said the organisation is committed to empowering women in the construction and related industries to reach their full potential.

“Having a strong network and community is imperative to building a successful, sustainable and enjoyable career – especially as a female in the construction industry,” Ms Taylor said.

“There is plenty of money to be made in trades, with ten occupational groups earning significantly more than the median Australian salary. 

“These include electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters, and joiners. 

“One of NAWIC’s chief goals is education – particularly around career pathways for girls, and we look forward to seeing more and more females enter the construction industry,” she said. 

Women in Trade Image supplied by TAFE Queensland

TAFE Queensland (north region) Building and Infrastructure Faculty Manager Tracy Turner said there had never been a better time for women to enrol in trade training. 

“There are a number of skills shortages in regional and metro areas, and women with a desire to pursue a trade could fill those gaps,” Ms Turner said. 

“For the most part, trade workers enjoy secure employment, and during COVID-19, trade work remained in demand, with some areas growing rapidly. 

“It’s really great that apprentices earn money from day one, and their training can be completed in the same time or less when compared to a university degree,” she said. 

To find out more about funded trade training, contact TAFE Queensland on 1300 308 233 or visit  tafeqld.edu.au. 


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