While the number of women in traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are slowly increasing, it’s a different story in the Australian construction industry.
Of Australia’s 1.2 million-strong construction workforce in 2020, only 59,587 were women.
Recognising the gap, an ambitious local initiative is working to change the statistics and help break down some barriers.
To increase the visibility of women on construction sites and attract more to the industry, Ginninderry last year established the inaugural Women in Trades SPARK program.
The construction of Ginninderry’s Strathnairn Charity House was identified as an opportunity to provide a live training site for women wanting an introduction to the construction industry.
A joint venture between Ginninderry and Master Builders ACT, Strathnairn Charity House was a collaborative effort by dozens of women across a myriad of roles: architecture, interior design, electricians, builders, carpenters, painters and landscapers.
The training program has been so successful – with the majority of women graduates securing full-time employment in the construction sector – that Ginninderry head of Community, Training & Employment Emma Sckrabei is applying for more funding in the hope of running it again in 2022.
The charity house build was spearheaded by KANE Constructions ACT’s general manager Jo Farrell, whose track record for empowering women in trade roles speaks for itself.
She is also founder of not-for-profit organisation Build Like A Girl, which champions women in trade.
The Strathnairn project provided Jo a great opportunity to shine a light on the impact women could have on the industry.
“From a design and construction point of view, the project was led by a female architect and builder,” Jo said. “But more importantly, every trade we used had a female apprentice, and participants on the Master Builders ACT & Ginninderry’s successful SPARK Women in Trades program used the project as a live training site.”
Jo said it was important for participants to see women visible on the site, playing a part in every aspect of the construction.
“There’s got to be women there showing that it can be done to then allow younger women to say, ‘Well if she can do it, I can too’.”
Architect Cassandra Keller, whose firm CK Architecture is heavily involved in programs that encourage young women in construction, agreed.
“It is a great example of showing young women – and the broader community – what other women can do in the construction industry,” Cassandra said. “It makes it real for girls.”
She said the Strathnairn Charity House is as much about inspiring the next generation as it was about celebrating the women in Canberra’s construction industry.
“I felt very lucky to be a part of it because I could see what a difference it made for young women. When I was that age, I would have loved to have seen more of that happening.”
Now a first-year electrical apprentice with Control & Electric, Siobhan Nelson discovered Ginninderry’s pioneering SPARK Construction Program at a jobs fair and quickly realised it was the perfect pathway to a career.
The 25-year-old put her mark on Strathnairn Charity House in not one, but two ways: helping to create the formwork and connecting the site to the grid.
She said the atmosphere on site was electric (no pun intended).
“You could see the inspiration on everyone’s faces and how excited they were to be doing something that was going to give back to women and the community,” Siobhan said. “Everyone had a big smile on their face. The best word would be ‘empowered’.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be involved… you walk away feeling really positive and like you want to give back. In the future I’d love to do more of the same.”
Once completed, Strathnairn Charity House will be sold with proceeds for the four-bedroom, three-bathroom sleek modern design se to be distributed through Hands Across Canberra between West Belconnen: Pegasus Riding for the Disabled, Karinya House, and Canberra City Care Charnwood.