How women are trading-in old stereotypes when it comes to the construction industry | HerCanberra

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How women are trading-in old stereotypes when it comes to the construction industry

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Do you remember what you wanted to do after school when you were in Year 10?

For Joannah Currie, a student at Galilee School, she figured she’d go into childcare or do a chef’s course. Then she heard about the Women in Construction Pathways Program, run by the Australian Training Company (ATC) and the National Association for Women in Construction (NAWIC). Her interest was immediately piqued.

“I was like, ‘Hmm, I really want to give this a go and see what it’s like and be a part of something different,” says Joannah.

“My mum and my family have all [worked] in construction and trucks. So I wanted to give it a shot.”

Joannah Currie on site.

Communities@Work’s Galilee School, an independent secondary school designed specifically for disengaged and vulnerable young people, has been working closely with ATC since 2018 to provide new opportunities for students and to help women break the stereotypes of traditional trade careers.

The school is proud to have had a student accepted into the ATC program each year since 2018. The recent involvement of NAWIC in the program has further strengthened the opportunities available to young women.

The Women in Construction Pathways Project (formerly the Future Trades Women Program) receives funding support from the ACT and Australian Governments through the Future Skills for Future Jobs Grants Program, under the National Partnership on the Skilling Australians Fund.

It is an initiative designed to provide industry experience for female students in Years 10, 11 and 12 interested in pursuing a career in construction. The 18-month program includes rotations across different trades, as well as pre-employment training, mentoring and support.

The program’s 2020 cohort saw 40 students begin school-based apprenticeships, with participants rotating through placements to gain experience in a wide variety of construction industry careers, such as electrical, carpentry, architecture, design, engineering, construction management, tiling and plastering.

Last year, as a Year 10 student, Joannah tried out carpentry for eight weeks with Canberra Commercial Contractors, working on-site in Narrabundah, to build the medical centre at Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services.

As part of her training, she did many jobs a first-year apprentice would do, including cleaning, helping cut wood for the walls, and painting nails.

Now in Year 11 (and as part of Galilee School’s first Year 11 cohort), her Program training will involve stints in civil construction, plumbing, and electrical, for starters. While she’s not entirely certain which area she’ll pursue, Joannah says it’s completely set her on the path to do a trade.

“I’m keeping my mind open about what my favourite area is. I’ll be trying lots of different areas, so [I] will decide after that. That’s one of the great things about this program: it allows you to try a bit of everything,” she says.

“The program is one of the toughest and yet rewarding things you will ever do. You can’t, you know, get your nails done. You can’t stress enough the importance of smashing the stereotype of women in the face, and being able to say ‘I did this, this is what I did, and I am proud of myself’. It’s really exciting.”

Joannah is just one of many young women who have found a positive alternative pathway through the Women in Construction Pathways Program.

Jordon-Jo Munro-Johnston (right).

A soon to be graduate of the program, Jordon-Jo Munro-Johnston (a former Galilee School student, pictured above), is working with ATC to convert her training to a full-time apprenticeship.

She is about to commence an engineering rotation, and has been recognised for her significant commitment to overcoming some hurdles along the way.

Fellow graduate Meghan Haren (also a former Galilee School student), completed the ATC program in August 2020. She then worked with a carpentry firm and was hoping to start a carpentry apprenticeship.

Meghan Haren on site.

Rachelle Nairne, a Year 10 student at Galilee School, is part of the latest cohort which started in January 2021. She began her first rotation with host employer Classic Touch Carpentry, who have been extremely happy with Rachelle’s progress and enthusiasm, saying she’s been enjoying the experience from day one.

Karyn Hunter from ATC has been working closely with both host employers and participants. She says the program is a great way for young women to decide if they want to pursue a trade.

“A majority of participants end up taking a position somewhere in a trade environment, usually in an apprenticeship,” she said. “So, the program has served its purpose by helping them firm up in their minds as to what they want.”

Rachelle Nairne on site.

ATC and NAWIC are currently looking to build up their pool of host employers to join the program and support women in the Canberra community in traditional trade careers for three-month rotations. If you are an employer who would be willing to host apprentices, contact ATC on 0438 984 212.

For more information on Communities@Work’s Galilee School visit commsatwork.org/services/community/galilee-school.

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