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Alison loves working in Canberra’s building trade and in future she may not be such a rarity

By Glynis Quinlan 22 July 2018 2
First-year carpentry apprentice Alison Knights and fellow tradie Daniel Johnstone share a laugh while working on a building site. Plans are afoot to see more female tradies in Canberra’s construction industry. Photo: Alison Knights.

First-year carpentry apprentice Alison Knights and fellow tradie Daniel Johnstone share a laugh while working on a building site. Plans are afoot to see more female tradies in Canberra’s construction industry. Photo: Alison Knights.

Thirty-three-year-old first-year carpentry apprentice Alison Knights is a rare Canberran. Not only is she one of a tiny number of women working as a tradie in the ACT construction industry, but she is someone who loves her job – every day!

A single mother-of-three, Alison started work as an apprentice at an older age than is the norm and she is part of a trade that is 99 per cent male.

But if Master Builders ACT has its way, Alison will not be on her own for long – they see her as one of the faces of the future for the territory’s building and construction industry.

Master Builders ACT has launched a ‘Work Insights Program’ aimed at breaking down the barriers which are stopping women from working in a trade in the building and construction industry.

The four-week pre-apprenticeship program gives young women an opportunity to gain an insight into what it would be like to work in a trade in the building and construction industry before making a commitment to start an apprenticeship. If they decide to go ahead they are then provided with an avenue to employment in the industry.

“Choosing a career path as a female tradie can be daunting and sometimes young women need the opportunity to try the trade through training, using tools and attending site placements first,” said Master Builders Association Commercial Director Liz Nair.

“MBA is committed to working with government to increase the uptake of women in trades. We already train 50 per cent of the ACT’s carpentry apprentices and this program, if successful, will deliver a pathway of employment for 10 females who wish to undertake an apprenticeship in carpentry, plumbing or civil construction.”

MBA commercial director Liz Nair said choosing to be a female tradie can be daunting. Photo: Supplied

MBA commercial director Liz Nair said choosing to be a female tradie can be daunting. Photo: Supplied.

According to the ACT Government, women are often actively discouraged from undertaking apprenticeships in building, plumbing, automotive, engineering and electro-technology.

The Government identified the key barriers for women entering the building trade industry as including gender stereotypes, a lack of exposure for females to trade vocations, the representation of tradeswomen in popular media, and the difficulties faced by employers in recruiting female workers and handling workplace issues.

Alison said it can be intimidating for women to work in such a male-dominated area, with the guys sometimes not knowing how to act or be diplomatic around women.

“You have to be pretty resilient and pretty tough,” Alison said. “But it’s starting to change.”

Alison is currently working on a residential construction site in Bruce and said the team of people she works with are “like one big family”. She said that it is a large site and sometimes a new team will start working there and initially give her funny looks as if she is out of place.

However, Alison said she is never harassed because the team she works with always look after her.

Alison used to work in conveyancing law but made a career change to become a carpentry apprentice after she started building her own house and found she really enjoyed the process.

“I wanted a job that I’d enjoy going to each day and I took the plunge.”

Alison loves the hands-on component of her job. This is a feature hardwood timber wall she built at her own home. Photo: Alison Knights.

Alison loves the hands-on component of her job. This is a feature hardwood timber wall she built at her own home. Photo: Alison Knights.

As a single mother of three children aged six, seven and nine, Alison found the drop in wage in becoming an apprentice difficult but said she is lucky to have a boss who pays her above the award wage.

Alison works for Above & Beyond Constructions and said she was lucky to get Charlie Faraj (a former MBA apprentice) as her boss after hearing he was looking for apprentices from a “friend of a friend”.

“He’s very accommodating when it comes to my time with the kids. My hours are based on school hours,” she said.

Alison works on a variety of carpentry jobs such as constructing frames, putting up trusses and any form of work with timber. She is known for her attention to detail and thinks this could be one of the strengths women could bring to the trade.

“I love it. I do like the hands-on component. It’s always a challenge and it’s never mundane, ever,” she said.

Alison loves her job and says it's never mundane. Photo: Alison Knights.

Alison loves her job and says it’s never mundane. Photo: Alison Knights.

Alison is glad she made the change to become an apprentice in the construction industry and said her kids like to tell their friends that their mum’s a builder.

She thinks the new pre-apprenticeship program provides a good opportunity for other women to find out what it’s like to work in the industry.

“The hardest thing about doing it for me would be the financial factor. As a mum, if I didn’t have the flexibility that my boss offers it would be difficult,” Alison said.

“I was always worried, as well, that I wouldn’t be strong enough to keep up with the boys but it wasn’t an issue.”

The Work Insights Program is being run with the aid of funding from the ACT Government and is a four-week pre-apprenticeship specifically for women who are interested in starting a career in carpentry, plumbing, civil construction or electrical occupations trades.

The first program will start in August this year, with a maximum of 15 places available. The program will include formal training, as well as presentations from industry employers, current employees, life coaches and a well-being mentor. There will also be a number of construction site work placements to expose the successful applicants to all aspects of the industry.

“We encourage anyone who is interested to attend a free information session about the program, which will be held on Wednesday 1 August 2018, 4:00 – 5:00 pm at our office in Fyshwick,” said Ms Nair.

The information session is free and for more information or to RSVP please click here.

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Alison loves working in Canberra’s building trade and in future she may not be such a rarity
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Melinda Parrett 9:31 am 22 Jul 18

Great work! Need more!

Monique Zocchi 8:52 am 22 Jul 18

Well done Ally, you’re a star!!

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