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Female trades students breaking through threshold

May 16, 2019

Some of EIT’s women in trades, from left Samantha Hutton, Mereana Purcell, Maddison Chapman, Rosa Moleta, Paris Kendrick, Mernetta Woolward and Michelle Mahy

It has taken a number of years, however, there are more and more women working their way up in male-dominated trades. This trend is reflected in the growing number of female students enrolled at EIT’s School of Trades and Technology.

EIT has 16 women signed up for various Level 3 certificates, compared to only ten women in 2018. The 2018 intake had seen no women opting for electrical engineering, however this year there are six. Four women are enrolled in mechanical engineering, four study automotive, and there is one woman doing the carpentry programme.

Mernetta Woolward is the only woman studying a NZ Certificate in Plumbing, Gasfitting and Drainlaying. The fact that plumbing is a quasi male-only trade, intrigued her she says. The 31-year-old admits that being a mature student was something that made her nervous at the start but now, she has found her niche, “I love every bit of it.”

Once a month the students catch up for the Women in Trades Lunch hosted by Te Ara o Tākitimu / School of Trades & Technology work broker Claire Hodson. The lunch is a great chance to talk about their studies, challenges and job opportunities and to vent on gender stereotypes and so called positive discrimination, “Sometimes, when jobs get physical men feel like they have to help us but we usually find our own ways to work around it,” the women state.

Tradeswomen, however, are in great demand, “Industry faces a massive shortage in skilled infrastructure workers and are specifically recruiting women,” Claire notes. “A lot of our students are older and have other valuable work experience. For most of them learning a trade was a conscious decision and not something they were conditioned to do after leaving school.

Learning a trade opens the door to well paid jobs too. EIT is organising regular meetings with successful female graduates who encourage current students to aim high.

Most of the women say that they don’t feel judged by their gender, and their male classmates usually don’t seem to care about it, however, prejudices are tenacious, “You have to absolutely stand your ground,” says Claire. “But the employers’ feedback has been very positive in saying our successful graduates are next level and often even better than the men.”