Amanda Hamilton has made the switch from working in Australia’s most popular profession for women to the most male-dominated industry.
The former administration assistant was the first woman to study plumbing at North Coast TAFE’s Wollongbar campus and graduated top of her class last year.
“My first day of TAFE, when I walked in the classroom, everyone just went silent and stared at me,” she said.
“My teacher said ‘it’s OK, she’s not in the wrong room’, so I suppose I was treated differently from the start because everyone was wondering why I was in the plumbing room.”
Gender Segregation Remains Consistent
A report released this month by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows gender segregation in the Australian workforce had remained consistent for the past 20 years.
The report found women made up just 14.7% of technicians and trade workers in 2015, yet 74.3% of clerical and administrative workers.
Ms Hamilton, who now works alongside her husband as a plumber in the northern New South Wales town of Kyogle, said it took some work as an apprentice to challenge the attitudes about traditional gender roles in her community.
“I had a few people saying ‘as a female on the job site, should you actually be doing this?’” she said.
“Being in a small town, everybody knows that’s me now, but maybe if I moved somewhere else I might have to go through that whole process again.”
Women see trades as ‘real career prospect’
North Coast TAFE automotive trades head teacher Graham Armstrong said despite the low figures of women working in trades nationally, he had seen a rise in the number taking up apprenticeships in northern New South Wales.
“I think women are seeing trade areas as a real career prospect, given the diversity and as a pathway into progressive industry roles,” he said.
“Technological advancements have played a huge part in redefining traditional trades as being solely a blue collar job.”
Second-year apprentice mechanic Esther Bullock, 23, said she believed most women from her generation did not feel hindered by gender stereotypes.
“I was always encouraged by my family that if I wanted to do something, I could do it and I’d be good at it if I wanted to be,” she said.
“I always thought if I wanted to do something I’d be able to do it.
“Some people know more about some things and some people don’t, it’s just what you choose to learn.”
Maddison Carr, 19, a second-year apprentice electrician, is one of two women in her electro-technology course at TAFE and said she did not understand why it was still a male-dominated field.
“I think there should be more women in there,” she said.
“I knew I wanted to get hands-on and I didn’t want to stay behind a desk, and now it feels good.”
Ms Carr said the only sexist attitudes she had encountered came from people outside the industry.
“Everyone’s like, ‘oh, a female sparkie’, and my friends at first were like ‘what, a lady tradie?’,” she said.
“They get a little awkward but they come around; I just laugh it off. I’m just like ‘yep, that’s it, here I am’.”
Horticulturist Michelle Ninnes, 38, said it took a mid-life crisis for her to follow her true passion.
Ms Ninnes worked as a nurse for 10 years before moving to the northern New South Wales town of Alstonville to pursue a career as macadamia farmer.
“I was working in mental health, which is very draining, so I decided I needed a change for my own mental health and the mental health of my family,” she said.
“I basically just wanted to work outside and just wanted to come to a job every day that I was happy with.
“I did grow up in a rural community and unfortunately at that stage, it was ‘girls become nurses and teachers’.
“I decided I always really wanted to be a farmer, so I went from there.”
She said she hoped her career change would inspire other women to take up a traineeship or apprenticeship in a male-dominated industry.
“If you really want to do it, go for it,” Ms Ninnes said.
“It’s probably a little bit tougher, but stick in there. Life’s so short, you’ve got to be happy.”