A 10-week program designed to SPARK women’s interest in the trades

Lottie Twyford6 July 2021
Two women working on construction site

Ginninderry’s SPARK Training and Employment Program was open to women of all ages who wanted to give the trades a go. Photo: Region Media.

A recent push from Ginninderry’s SPARK Training and Employment Program has seen 10 women complete a 10-week course designed to give them exposure to working in the trades or construction sector.

Ginninderry’s head of community, training and employment, Emma Sckrabei, says the program is designed to introduce women to an industry in which they are currently nationally underrepresented.

“In 2006, women occupied 17 per cent of the entire construction workforce, dropping to 12 per cent in 2016 and decreasing further to 11 per cent in 2020,” she explains.

“While this figure is low, the proportion of women employed in the trades is even lower. In 2020, only one per cent of the trades and technician positions in the construction industry were filled by women.”

Emma says the stigma surrounding entering the construction industry could begin at school where girls might be less likely to take classes such as metalwork or woodwork, while later on the physicality of the job and the early hours while raising a family might seem less than ideal.

Woman reading plan on construction site

The Strathnairn Charity House was chosen as the ideal site for Ginninderry’s SPARK Training and Employment Program participants to learn on the job. Photo: Region Media.

“We are big believers in ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and so if women are looking at job sites and seeing them populated only by men, they are less likely to have a go,” says Emma.

One participant, Siobhan Nelson, says she never saw herself or her female friends pursuing a career in the trades upon leaving school.

“Even though I love using my hands and doing maths, I just assumed it was more of a blokes’ industry,” she says.

But after working various casual jobs in administration, finance, lifeguarding, sports instruction and in the hospitality industry, Siobhan found herself struggling to find a career that would offer her some stability.

“All of these were casual roles that didn’t offer any career progression,” she says. “I was looking for a job I could really seek my teeth into and happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

The right place was the Canberra Jobs Fair, where Siobhan happened upon the team from Ginninderry’s SPARK Training and Employment Program, who told her about the program.

“What interested me the most about this program was that I could pretty much ‘try before you buy’,” she says. “You can experience different trades, ask questions and see if a trade is the right [one for you].”

Now in week nine of the 10-week program, Siobhan has found the entire experience to be positive. Now she’s highly motivated to find an electrical apprenticeship to continue on her path.

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The program is a mixture of work placement with different employers and learning in a classroom setting.

In Siobhan’s case, she worked with both refrigeration and electrical employers, which were chosen for her individually because she had expressed a desire to use maths and to work with her hands.

“I was able to experience all of the different aspects of being involved with each trade, including the physical and mental requirements of the job while I was onsite,” she explains.

In terms of support from her employers, Siobhan says it has been a positive experience.

“Both of my employers explained that women are often quite meticulous with their calculations and are very valuable to the industry,” she says.

Woman reading a plan on construction site

Ginninderry’s SPARK Training and Employment Program participants have learnt how to read plans and understand how a house is built. Photo: Region Media.

In the classroom, participants are taught how to read and understand plans, occupational health and safety requirements, and the logistics behind how a house is put together.

“Most of us hadn’t previously been in the trade industry so it was a very supportive environment and we were all learning at the same pace,” says Siobhan.

She adds all of the women participating are a variety of ages, and the program isn’t just geared towards school leavers.

Participants are also equipped with skills such as expectations regarding bullying and harassment in the workplace, and connected with resources to help such as an employee assistant program (EAP) should the need arise.

Before commencing, there was a functionality test which included physical tests as well as a drug and alcohol testing.

The SPARK JobTrainer Women in Trades program is delivered in conjunction with the Ginninderry Charity Auction House project and Hands Across Canberra, with support from the Federal Government, ACT Government, Master Builders Association of the ACT, Build Like a Girl and Healthy Tradie Project.

Original Article published by Lottie Twyford on The RiotACT.

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