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Thriving as a female apprentice

Hailey is not your average 17 year old: she is completing Grade 12 and an apprenticeship at the same time - and loving it.

Hailey is not your average 17 year old: she is currently completing Grade 12 while also tackling a career in a typically male-dominated industry by completing an apprenticeship in the fabrication sector which she studies at TAFE Queensland.

As a school-based apprentice, Hailey spends two days each week in the workplace and three days at school – she then completes training blocks at TAFE Queensland Acacia Ridge during her school holidays.

Hailey has shown determination, skill, humility, and an eagerness for learning since deciding she would pursue a career in the trades sector and complete her Certificate III in Engineering – Fabrication Trade (MEM30319). It was this combination of virtues that earned her the School-based Apprentice of the Year award at November’s TAFE Queensland SkillsTech Apprentice Awards.

Hailey knew she wanted to look at trade careers earlier in high school and through the TAFE at School program was able to take on Certificate I in Construction (CPC10120) and Certificate II in Engineering Pathways (MEM20413) before finishing grade 10.

Having found her passion in engineering and fabrication, Hailey began looking into an apprenticeship, “I found engineering was the right thing for me, I wanted to knuckle down and I decided that’s my future,” Ms Dicker said.

As a young female looking into a trade career, Hailey says she had people try to talk her out of the career path, but that once she found an employer and training provider that supported her there was no stopping her.

“It was hard having the self-confidence at first but having Barney [her employer, Barney Dunn of Barcat Fabrications] in my corner, as well as the teachers at TAFE Queensland, gave me the confidence I needed,” she said.

TAFE Queensland Business Manager of Engineering Training at Acacia Ridge, Kevin Roos, said that Hailey was an example of the highly motivated and skilled female students he sees training every day at the state’s premier trade training location.

“We have seen a large increase in female students in the engineering area at Acacia Ridge over the last few years. All of whom are incredibly passionate about their industry and eager to learn,” Mr Roos said.

“Our focus is on supporting all students and removing any possible roadblocks in their journey to becoming a qualified tradesperson,” he said.

Hailey’s school has always been supportive of her journey to a trade career, finding her three separate engineering work experience opportunities to ensure her eventual employer would be the right fit. Barcat Fabrications, where Hailey now works, was the final work experience opportunity she undertook before starting her apprenticeship.

Hesitant at first because he had never hired a female apprentice before, it was with an open mind that Barney Dunn took a chance and employed Hailey – a chance that he said is paying off.

“She has proven me wrong and that she can be just as productive as any male employee, I’m very happy with Hailey's work,” Mr Dunn said.

When asked if he would hire more female apprentices in the future, Barney was enthusiastic, “absolutely, I’d hire another female in the workshop.”

“I’ve asked the school if they can provide me another female apprentice like Hailey, it doesn’t matter male or female as long as they can work and are interested and we can invest the time into them as an apprentice,” he said.

Hailey is just one example of the wave of young women pursuing trade careers, and even across her time at high school she has noticed an increase in interest from her peers.

“I think it’s [a trade career] really gaining popularity. You didn’t used to see it much but now there are more girls doing apprenticeships in male-dominated trades,” Ms Dicker said.

“I don’t just see it around me, it’s all over social media now too with girls around the world being interested in engineering and construction and other male-dominated trades. It’s great,” she said.

Hailey is correct in her observations, with the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) referencing a growth in female apprentice and trainee numbers in trade occupations across the country.

In NCVER’s most recent report on the subject it states the number of female apprentices and trainees in training in trade occupations across Australia has risen to almost 30,000 – an increase of 69.4 per cent between June 30 2018 and June 30 2022.

According to NCVER, Queensland reported the most female trade occupation apprentices and trainees of any state or territory at June 30 2022, as per the report, with more than 7,500 female tradespeople in training. The sunshine state had also seen the second-sharpest rise since 2018 with an increase of 86.4 per cent.

As the largest training provider in the state, providing training to nearly half of Queensland’s apprentices, TAFE Queensland is proud to have contributed greatly to this increase.