National Association of Women in Construction ACT president Peita De Boer and Kane Construction general manager Jo Farrell with apprentice Evana Rabi. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

National Association of Women in Construction ACT president Peita De Boer and Kane Construction general manager Jo Farrell with apprentice Evana Rabi. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Women working to make a construction career 'business as usual'

New programs to help Canberra women join careers in construction industry

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By the end of their school career many young women will be pushed away from the male-dominated construction industry, a trend one group of builders want to change.

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Girls entering high school are ready to take on the world, but by the end of their school career many will be pushed away from the male-dominated construction industry, a trend one group of builders want to change.

National Association of Women in Construction ACT president Peita De Boer said supporting girls who had the passion for a trade in high school was key to keep them on track through their career.

Ms De Boer said while students in years 6 and 7 were often eager to try anything and take on a trade, by year 9 that changed.

"When they get to that critical time of [school], is when either family would say, 'you shouldn't do that', or their school guidance counsellor might try and push them down a more traditional path ... unless they actually had someone in the industry supporting them," Ms De Boer said.

A program has been launched in the ACT aimed at bridging the gap.

Women make up just 11 per cent of the construction industry according to 2018 data, and a mere 1 per cent of that was women in building trades.

The Women in Construction Pathways Program takes high school students to construction sites for 12 weeks, during which they will have the chance to work across areas including electrical, plumbing and carpentry or can focus on an area of interest.

Ms De Boer said the next step was to hammer home the message that a construction career opened opportunities for women.

"We need to try and reinforce that to the next generation, and the decision-makers, the parents, to realise it's an incredible career, and there's a lot of support from companies out there," she said.

Ms De Boer said there were plans to grow the program, but hoped ultimately it wouldn't be needed.

"This is something we're looking to scale up, and there's lots of partners we're talking to ... to try and make this business as usual," she said.

"So there's lots of pathways into construction and it doesn't need to be a deliberate program, it's more of a concerted industry effort."

Evana Rabi wants to be a carpenter or a builder when she finished school. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Evana Rabi wants to be a carpenter or a builder when she finished school. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Evana Rabi is the only girl in her year 12 engineering class, so she's not intimidated by being outnumbered on a worksite.

Her first day on a construction site this week reinforced her dream to become a carpenter or builder.

"I just love making stuff," she said. "When you can make something out of nothing, it's beautiful."

The 18-year-old is among 40 students who have taken part in the program. She said it will help her understand the industry and how a site runs, before she starts an apprenticeship next year.

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Kane Construction general manager Jo Farrell launched Build Like A Girl this year, with the view to mentor scores of women right through their apprenticeship and onward.

She has also taken on three apprentices under the pathways program, and said she had already seen skills she hoped would return to site.

After decades in the industry as the only woman on site, Ms Farrell wants the sector to recognise its most overlooked resource - women.

"It's apparent to me when I try and engage in our tradeswomen for jobs that they're just not there," she said.

Ms Farrell said providing a mentor, to support women and tackle the difficulties of the male-dominated industries, would help keep them in the sector.

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The story Women working to make a construction career 'business as usual' first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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