PHOTOS: Rebecca Hosking and Louisa Jones
Only two per cent of tradespeople in Australia are women, despite many trades having vacancy rates of half or more. But, as LUKE VOOGT discovers, Geelong’s rapid expansion is driving an influx of local women on the tools.
Teneille Linehan could never see herself “sitting in an office job” despite excelling in maths and science in high school.
Thanks to her trade, the Hamlyn Heights sparkie owns her “dream car” and just built a family-sized home in Charlemont with her partner.
“It’s probably put me four years in front of others my age,” the 24-year-old says.
Teneille chose “hands-on work” over a HECS debt from studying environmental science at university.
“Even if you can’t get a job you can start your own business – you’ve always got a trade to fall back on.”
Working a day with an electrician at Castlemaine’s smallgoods factory during year 10 work experience got her hooked, and after finishing school she aced the bookwork in her TAFE electrical course.
“Whereas some of the boys struggled a bit,” she says.
“A lot of people go into it not knowing how involved it is and how much maths you need to do.”
When Teneille started working on homes in 2013 she was the only female tradie onsite.
“But now it’s becoming more common,” she says.
Teneille now owns her own business, works fulltime as an electrical infrastructure auditor, rows for Victoria and is completing wiring on her new home.
“I’ve got more work than I can handle!” she says.
She has worked on major projects, like Epworth Hospital in Waurn Ponds and Geelong’s WorkSafe headquarters.
Negative or sexist comments on the job over her career are rare enough to “count on one hand”, Tenielle says.
“The majority say ‘it’s great to see a female sparkie’. Most people are just really happy to see you having a go.“
But being “the littlest onsite“ means she’s often sweating up in the roof on a hot day with insulation sticking to her.
“I’m always the first to go up and when I am working for myself I don’t have anybody else to do it.“
Tenielle will join a Geelong Women in Trades contingent building a home for a rural family in Cambodia this month.
“I like helping others that are less fortunate than us.“
Alisha Grant’s parents had doubts when their academically-gifted daughter announced she wanted to be a tradie.
But a few years later, the Drysdale painter is loving the autonomy of her own business and has jobs booked until next February.
“When my parents saw how happy I was they were really happy as well,” the 24-year-old says.
Her love of painting began in high school but teachers never talked about it as a career, she says.
“I had wanted to do painting since I was 15 but I never pursued it because I thought I’d get bored of it. I didn’t even know it was an option.”
After leaving school Alisha began studying biomedicine.
“But I realised I was doing it because I thought I had to, not because I wanted to,” she says.
So she “decided to just go for it” and took the plunge into painting.
“It just felt like I was being more honest with myself and the life I wanted to live.”
Alisha painted on a range of worksites during her apprenticeship, sometimes alongside up to a hundred tradies.
But she says there was far less sexism on her male-dominated worksites than some people might expect.
She never had any issues herself, which she attributes partly to her assertive personality.
“They knew they couldn’t say that sort of thing to me,” she says.
“If you’re confident and happy to be where you are, you’re not attracting that sort of negative attention.”
A mate working in real estate gave her a few clients after she completed her apprenticeship this February, and word of mouth did the rest.
“I qualified on a Friday and on Monday I started my first job,” she says.
“I haven’t stopped since.”
She loves being creative and designing colour pallets.
“I like making a house look nice again for someone – especially an old run-down job,” she says.
Alisha will join an adventure to Cambodia this month with Geelong Women in Trades to build a home for a poor rural family.
The ability to help others is just another reason for women to consider doing a trade, she says.
“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t just have a crack.”
Jess Brownsea is mixing high-end design with hammers and nails to become both a qualified carpenter and architect.
“I’m learning to draw what I’m building and I’m building what I’m learning to draw,” the 22-year-old says.
Jess is two months from finishing her Master of Architecture at Waurn Ponds while working as an apprentice carpenter.
“I started architecture in 2014 straight out of high school,” she says.
A year later she began labouring for her dad, a builder in Warrnambool.
“First day I just started out cleaning bricks,” she says.
“Then I started digging stumps, putting down flooring and building wall frames – all things you’d probably do in the first year of your apprenticeship.
“I’ve been at school 18 years in a row now and you sort of get sick of it.
“It’s good to get up, make something and get your hands dirty.
“I really like being able to stand back and say, ‘I made that house’.“
Jess is also studying carpentry at Gordon TAFE.
“I was learning everything, so we decided I might as well back it up with a qualification.”
She never thought of doing an apprenticeship at high school.
“For whatever reason, that was sort of perceived as something you do if you’re good not at school,” she says.
“But trades school the teachers have been really happy with my written work.”
Having dad as boss helps Jess juggle work with study.
“But uni’s only a couple of days a week, six months a year,” she says.
“I think he’s proud. He likes to take photos and show my mum what I’ve been doing.”
Jess urges women give trades a go, even if they’re at university.
Male tradies might be stronger but “if you work at your muscles and weights, it doesn’t have to be a limitation”, she says.
“I tend to keep the worksite a bit cleaner than some of the blokes too.”
She can’t wait to design a project and build it from the ground up.
“If I could see a project through from start to finish it would be really exciting,” she says.