The Trades Fit expo – Young Women in trades and tech

Taking place at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the inaugural Trades Fit expo was the result of two years of planning: two days, over 2000 female secondary students, and 60 exhibitors. It was an opportunity for girls to get a hands-on experience of non-traditional trades in a supportive environment.

IntoWork’s presence at the expo was a perfect fit for the representatives of two of its brands – Mas and AGA. Mas State Manager, Leeann Rayner, said that the expo was the brainchild of several interested parties, including the founding members of the #girlstradeUP initiative and the Victorian Government’s Head Start . She was proud to have been involved in its conception and excited to see the group’s two years of work finally come to fruition.

There was a palpable excitement in the air – just about every stall was interactive. Everything from handling tools, virtual reality trade simulations, robotics, computer games, horticulture and marine engineering provided students with a tactile experience. In fact, Kathy Bakopoulos from Mas National said that the competitive nature of participants got very intense, and their stall became a spectacle as two teams battled it out for hammer champion in front of a captive audience!

It was also a cross-generational opportunity, where guest speakers shared their own experiences of the challenges they faced navigating male-dominated industries. They also spoke about how social attitudes have changed and the career options that are now available in both trades and tech industries.

This was a place where young women could take part and get close to those industries that can be so rewarding, but where females are so underrepresented. The stats do not lie – Less than 3% of tradies in the industry are female, and they represent less than 30% of the whole construction industry.  This also gave these bigger employers a chance to share their opportunities with the girls and focus on longer term outcomes not just the right here and now.

AGA’s stall, complete with a miniature wooden house, focused on encouraging secondary female students to explore traditionally male-dominated career pathways like carpentry, electrical and plumbing.

Two of the founders of the #girlstradeUP group said that the trades and tech industries are now starting to see the potential. Head Start Cluster Director Hari Nikolaou and Head Start Coordinator Kellie-Ann Darlington expressed the industry’s desire to change:

“The industry realises that they need to do better, and they want to partner with people who can help to facilitate that change – that’s what the whole project’s all about.”

The event was funded and supported by the Department of Education through its Head Start program. Victoria’s Big Build and numerous other partners were also keen contributors. Industry experts and speakers at the event volunteered their time, their resources, and their knowledge to encourage the next generation.

The program has been welcomed by educators. In a post-lockdown world that is only just starting to open up, many schools still struggle to be able to find opportunities for their students to engage with industry in a real-world environment.

But in the end, aside from the industry’s needs or the enthusiasm of educators, it is important to remember that the primary aim is about providing choice for young women. Hari summed it up best:

“This is about people coming together to celebrate the fact that we can do things better. We can profile the industry to young women, so that when they are making the decisions, everything is on the table.”