According to a 2020 report by RMIT, women occupied just 17% of the entire construction workforce in 2006. That number dropped to 12% in 2016 and further decreased to 11% in 2020. And when it comes to women employed in trades, the figures are even lower. The RMIT report found that only 1% of the trades and technical positions in the construction industry across Australia were filled by women.
“Looking at those figures, we knew we needed to do something about it. It’s just not good enough,” says Emma Sckrabei, Head of Community, Training & Employment at Ginninderry.
“In 2019 and 2020, we developed our SPARK Women in Civil Construction program, which addressed key shortage areas in civil construction, which is just one component of construction. But looking at the stats around the technical positions and trades, we knew we had to do more.”
In 2021, SPARK launched the inaugural Women in Trades program to increase the visibility of women on construction sites and attract more women to the industry. The program was funded by the Australian Government’s Job Trainer initiative and Skills Canberra in the ACT and was delivered as a collaboration between Ginninderry, Master Builders ACT (MBA), Build Like A Girl, the Healthy Tradie Project, and the Construction Industry Training Council. Without this program, the lives of Marielle Kuipers and Siobhan Nelson would look quite different than they do today.
Alongside eight other participants, Marielle and Siobhan completed the SPARK JobTrainer Women in Trades program, a 10-week program that allowed participants to complete seven units of competency from Certificate III in Carpentry while also gaining industry experience. To support participants’ entry into the workforce, they were also provided full PPE and completed Asbestos Awareness and White Card training. Live training sites are a key part of SPARK, and this program was no different. The Women in Trades program completed four weeks of industry placement in the construction sector, including time at the Strathnairn Charity House.
Marielle first heard about the program when a family friend handed her the Women in Trades Program flyer. “I attended the information session, and it sounded like a great opportunity to help me learn more about this industry and possibly move into work.”
“Before the program started, I was unsure what I wanted to do with myself. I was working in retail and then started studying fashion design. I wasn’t enjoying my job in retail, and I had begun considering working in construction, but I did not know how to get into this industry or what the different trades even looked like” Marielle says.
Siobhan has a similar experience leading up to the program. “I worked in various roles such as administration, finance, lifeguard, and sports instructor. All these roles were casual with no opportunity for career progression and a lack of job security being a casual worker.”
Siobhan discovered the SPARK program when she attended the Canberra Jobs Fair. “Thankfully, I spoke with Rachel, who was really inspiring to me. Rachel from SPARK helped me with all the pre-program information and questions I had, and I could really see her passion and enthusiasm to help others like myself develop and find a career. Honestly, I’m so thankful I ran into her that day.”
Siobhan then attended the program Information Session and chose to apply. Siobhan says, “The day I found out I was selected for the program, I celebrated over dumplings with my mum. I was worried I wouldn’t be selected for the program because of my physical fitness, but all the pre-employment tests were achievable. I was pretty stoked to be selected for the Women in Trades Program and to be a part of something that could potentially help me start a new career.”
“Something I learned about myself was that I had a lot of the desired skills to be a tradesperson, I just didn’t realise it before this program. I have attention to detail, math skills, enjoy working with my hands, and even problem-solving skills.” Siobhan continues to say, “This program truly changed my life. I wasn’t sure what kind of career or profession I was going to have since I had already tried quite a few. All I knew was I wanted to try and get into construction; that’s why I went to the Jobs Fair. SPARK helped me to network with employers in the industry. It helped me develop organisational skills, and I became better prepared for the workplace. It also helped me meet other females, women like me, driven and smart and keen to make and create things. The confidence it has given me has helped me get a job I love. I couldn’t be happier that I participated in this program and found the right career path after many years of searching!”
Through the program, Marielle and Siobhan completed four weeks of work placement with various employers. Marielle recalls, “This placement gave me experience in different trades and a more realistic idea of what it’s like to work in the industry. The work placement was also a great way to make connections in the industry, and this is how I landed my Carpentry Apprenticeship with Eifer Construction.”
Since completing the program in June 2021, Siobhan has started an apprenticeship. “I am an Apprentice Electrician with Control and Electric. This company is honestly incredible! I am happy studying one day a week, and my employer gives me plenty of support to learn new skills and ask questions.”
The SPARK Training and Employment Initiative offers a dedicated Relationship Manager who journeys alongside each participant to support them throughout the program and assist them with their next steps once they graduate. Marielle says, “The SPARK team took the time to get to know me and my career goals so they could connect me to employers aligned with my interests. They provided me with full PPE, which I still use daily, and our Relationship Manager Rachel checks in with me regularly. Not only from a program perspective but as a person helping me with any challenges I may have. While on the program, it was nice to know there was someone to call if I needed to.”
Siobhan recalls, “Rachel has been keeping in regular contact with me. She helped edit my resume and cover letter before I applied for the company I am with now. She also kept checking in throughout the lockdown, seeing if I was okay with everything. Rach also wanted to make sure I fit in at my new job. I found the entire SPARK team to be very approachable. If I had a query or concern, they were all there to guide me in the right direction. Also, they provided some premium snacks if we got hungry during our MBA training, which made the girl’s day sometimes.”
“I would definitely recommend this program! Particularly girls that have never had the chance to experience the trade industry, as it caters for beginners and demonstrates what it’s like to be in this industry. It is a bit of a commitment, but by the end of the program, my confidence to get into the industry has grown as I have built up my skills and abilities, like having a routine. The other thing is it teaches general life skills, like communication (both with supervisors or other people), planning, organising your work to get more efficient and effective outcomes and goal setting.”
Importantly, this program was made possible thanks to JobTrainer and is a jointly funded initiative of the ACT and Australian Governments. It was delivered in partnership with Build Like a Girl, which provided industry work experience placements, job opportunities and industry mentors; Master Builders Association of the ACT, which delivered all training content; and Healthy Tradie Project, responsible for delivering the health and well-being sessions.
For more information on other SPARK Training and Employment Programs, visit Ginninderry.com/SPARK