Program sparks careers in trades for women

Sascha Williams had a long held interest in electrics but had never seriously thought she could have a career as an electrician. That was until she joined a program aimed at supporting women into non-traditional trades.

Now she’s an Apprentice Electrician with a clear career path and a message to any woman who has an interest in an area that’s traditionally a male dominated field — “go for it!”

Sascha is a graduate of the “Women in Trades” program delivered by AGA, part of the IntoWork Group. The free eight-week pre-apprenticeship course provides practical skills and experience in trades including electrical, plumbing and carpentry. It requires no prior experience.

The 24-year-old was working in a variety of different jobs and industries but wanted something she could be hands on with and have a future in. Through joining the Women in Trades program she was connected with a group of 15 likeminded women who explored a career in trades in an inclusive, supportive environment, “I found a lot of support through the Women in Trades program as I met other women who were similar to me, and had the same fears, hesitancy and experience as me,” Sascha said.

As part of the program, students were taught by AGA Trainer and Assessor Lulu Waterhouse. Sascha said having a female instructor really helped in the classroom, “Lulu is honestly the best teacher I’ve ever had. I found she gave us knowledge that was more valuable than just how to use tools. She taught us what we might face in the industry, how to deal with sexism and how to feel safer in the workplace. She gave a breadth of knowledge that was more valuable than anything I expected to find in that class.”

Lulu said it was humbling to see participants’ confidence grow throughout the program, “The program can take away a bit of the mystery about what a worksite is like. It is enough time to gain some practical skills and broaden your expectations of what working in the trades may be like. Knowing how to use a drop saw safely or what a toolbox meeting is or understanding some of your OH+S rights, makes the idea of walking into a week of work experience feel much less daunting,” Lulu said.

“Learning something new is vulnerable. Deciding to walk a path against the status quo can be terrifying. Walking it anyway with a group of people experiencing some of the same hesitations and unknowns is the antidote. We learn practical skills but more importantly we talk about what prevents us from showing up wholly and challenge prescribed ideas of what we can achieve. And then, we build together and let that process blow any of those ideas out of the water.”

Sascha said any woman interested in pursuing a trade should ‘go for it’, “There’s always someone out there you can reach out to if you are finding it a bit tough and I think everyone, no matter the gender, has days where they find a bit tougher than others. I would really love to see this program continue because it’s extremely important, not just for someone like me, but you know, even someone who’s gone through an industry and wants to start up a new job.”

Since finishing the program, Sascha has secured an apprenticeship and is working for host employer Sturdie Trade Services.

The 24-year-old is four of 13 from her class who have secured apprenticeships, with others making valuable connections with employers and are receiving ongoing support in their career planning.

The Women in Trades program is an initiative of Apprenticeships Victoria and supported by Apprenticeship Employment Network.

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