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Jumping-off point

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To give apprentices the tools to stay on the job longer, they can learn from the best in the building industry. HIA Apprentices offers various initiatives, including its targeted BuildHer and LAHC programs.

Kerryn Ramsey

Senior Content Coordinator

Apprenticeships help people gain the extensive skills and experiences needed to succeed in the residential building industry, whether they train as builders, landscapers, carpenters or other qualified tradespeople. Completing an apprenticeship with HIA Apprentices is the first step towards a secure and rewarding career in our industry.

To encourage and educate prospective tradespeople, we have initiated a program called BuildHer. It sits under the HIA Apprentices and Building Women network. It’s been funded by both the South Australian Government’s Department of Education, Training and Skills and Training Services NSW.

As well as the BuildHer program, HIA focuses on women apprentices and trainees, particularly with its Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) NSW program.

‘We have many female apprentices across Australia,’ says Brenton Gardner, HIA’s Chief Executive – Business Innovation. ‘In addition, the BuildHer funding has been used to develop a marketing campaign to inform women to consider the construction industry as a career pathway.’

HIA is encouraging host employers to give the next generation on-the-job experience.

Chris Natt, HIA SA Program Manager, has been working to produce videos and develop presentation content for secondary school students in South Australia.

‘The program has been very well received with strong interest from school career advisors and pathway coordinators,’ says Chris. ‘The presentations have given many young women more confidence and a detailed knowledge about our industry, helping them make a responsible decision about working in a trade in the future.’

Value of being an apprentice 

According to Chris, many students haven’t considered a trade in the residential building industry due to a lack of knowledge. ‘There are expectations from parents, peers and career advisors who influence their choices. There’s also been a lack of credible and comprehensive information about what working in trades actually involves.’

HIA and the South Australian Government are encouraging host employers to give the next generation on-the-job experience. Host participation in the program attracts wage support payments for eligible participants, with HIA mentoring and support throughout the program.

Carolyn Sheean, who runs NSW LAHC Program and the NSW Connecting Women To Trades Project, agrees. ‘The building and construction industry has so many career pathways and opportunities for capable young people,’ she says. ‘It’s important that women are presented with the information, role models and practical experiences that allow their interest and talents to find a home.’

Based in NSW, Carolyn runs this state’s BuildHer program and supports apprentices and trainees through the LAHC program. ‘Most of the HIA NSW female apprentices are part of the LAHC program,’ she explains.

As the BuildHer initiative continues, three HIA Apprentices share their insights. Meet Caitlin Boutros, Leah Pashalidis and Sarah Starbuck.

Carpenter Caitlin Boutros took part in two HIA programs –LAHC NSW and BuildHer.
‘You always need a little bit of help, so it’s good to get support from your host,’ says Caitlin.

Caitlin Boutros 

Trade: Carpentry (recently completed Certificate IV)

Age: 20

HIA apprentice manager: John Nagel

Host employer: Spannenberg & Son (Campbelltown, NSW) 

Why did you want to be an apprentice?

I liked woodwork and construction in school, so I figured I might as well do what I enjoy. I’ve always wanted to build a house from scratch and make an old house look new.

Was it challenging when you started?

It was very confusing when I started, but once you get enough experience, things begin to click. 

Could you tell me about your bosses and colleagues? How have they supported you?

I worked with a few different companies, mainly Ben Spannenberg at Spannenberg & Son. I have had a lot of support from my coworkers. 

What inspired you to join this program with HIA?

I took part in two HIA programs – Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) NSW and BuildHer. I knew it would be a good support network because you get plenty of help and the proper pay. You are given a HIA field officer who checks in to see how you’re doing and provides all the PPE (personal protective equipment). 

Did you get a lot of guidance from your host?

So much guidance! You always need a little bit of help, so it’s good to get support from your host. 

Did you get support from your boss and team members?

Initially, I wanted to do everything at once, but I didn’t know where to start. My colleagues became like big brothers and taught me everything I know. We spent our days working together – and having a few laughs as well. My boss was always there for me, and if I had any issues or questions, he would always help. 

What were some of the positive aspects of your apprenticeship?

The thing I loved most was the satisfaction after finishing a job. You can look back at the house and say, ‘I built that.’ I also loved meeting our clients. They constantly encouraged me and told me I was doing a good job. When they had little kids, many of them looked up to me and said they couldn’t wait to be a builder when they grew up. 

Was it helpful to have your HIA field officer?

John Nagel is the best field officer you can ask for. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and you could tell he really cared about his apprentices and wanted the best for us. 

You recently completed Certificate IV, as well as winning the Fourth Year HIA-Stratco NSW Apprentice Awards. What are you planning now?

I’m planning to be a volunteer worker, hopefully in Africa. I’ll be building houses and helping teach English. I’ll do this through either GIVE Volunteers or Volunteer Abroad with IVHQ. 

After completing your year volunteering, what’s your long-term plan?

When I come home, I want to do a Building & Construction course to broaden my skills. I’m planning to keep a good relationship with HIA, and I’ll be staying in touch with my employers.

Apprentice carpenter Leah Pashalidis wanted to expand and gain knowledge of carpentry.
‘My boss and colleagues have supported me so much,’ says Leah with HIA’s Michael Wilson.

Leah Pashalidis 

Trade: Carpentry, Certificate III

Age: 20 

HIA apprentice manager: Simon Reid

Host employer: Alex Mitkas from AX Carpentry (Adelaide) 

What is your childhood/background?

I grew up in a Greek household with lots of family. I was never a girly girl; I enjoyed playing with cars, Nerf guns and bikes. 

Why did you want to be an apprentice?

I wanted to expand and gain knowledge of carpentry. Everything about it is fascinating. You learn so much about the trade. 

What challenges do young people face when starting a career path?

You’ll experience the good and the bad anywhere you go. It just depends on sticking with it or not. With a trade, you have to be 100 per cent committed; otherwise, you’re wasting your own time and others’ as well. 

Can you tell me about your boss/ colleagues?

My boss and colleagues have supported me so much. They help me when needed, and I can always crack a joke with them. They’re an amazing bunch; I wouldn’t trade that crew for anything. 

Are there challenges you have overcome?

I’m definitely not as strong as some of the boys, but if you try, that’s all that matters. 

What’s your relationship with your HIA field officer? 

My relationship with Simon [Reid] is fantastic. He’s super supportive and always there if I need anything. I would recommend him for anyone’s field officer. 

What are your long-term career plans?

I plan to start my own business, but there’s so much to learn and experience first.

Apprentice carpenter Sarah Starbuck with host employer, Peter Wright of Wright Building & Carpentry.
‘By the end of my apprenticeship, I’ll be able to build a house. There’s a sense of independence,’ says Sarah.

Sarah Starbuck 

Trade: Carpentry, Certificate III

Age: 38 

Host employer: Peter Wright, Wright Building & Carpentry, NSW

What inspired you to be a tradesperson? 

I’d worked as a nurse and midwife for 15 years. I was nursing during COVID and doing some work on the side as a casual labourer for a builder friend. It got to the point where I was looking forward to going to work as a labourer more than as a nurse.

I’ve always been a handyman. I remember being a seven-year-old in the backyard, helping my dad build a bird aviary. I did all my own maintenance and construction work on my own home. When I was working for my friend, I really loved it. 

What inspired you to make this change?

My host, Peter Wright from Wright Building & Carpentry, encouraged me. I met him when I wanted dance lessons; he was a dance instructor. We became friends, and a year later, he offered me this apprenticeship. 

Do you get support from Peter?

I have a unique apprenticeship. He’s a sole trader, and I’m his only permanent employee. Essentially, everything he does, I do. I quote and schedule, even for half-a-million-dollar jobs. I’m contacting suppliers and ordering materials. I deal directly with our subcontractors and book them for jobs. I have to make sure everything runs smoothly, so it’s quite scary sometimes. 

What are some of the challenges? 

I’m learning a whole new trade, a whole new industry. There are a lot of things that translate across any industry – dealing with people and ordering things. I had to do all that as a nurse. I was an educator for two hospitals, so I’ve had experience in oversight management. That’s been helpful.

There’s so much to learn and get my head around. I’m not going to lie – I’m a woman on the small side. There’s a physical component to the job, but again, I’ve been lucky. My boss is a personal trainer and has created workout programs for me that target the muscle groups I use on a job site. So it has become pretty easy. 

What are some of the positive aspects?

I’ve got a Monday to Friday job. I don’t work nights anymore, so I have my weekends back. And as a 38-year-old woman, I’m in better shape now than I ever have been in my life.

By the end of my apprenticeship, I’ll be able to build a house. There’s a sense of independence and pride to be able to do something so significant. 

What’s your long-term plan?

My boss is training me to be his site manager and run our job sites. When I complete my carpentry certificate, I’ll do my Cert 4 and get my builder’s licence. Essentially, I’ll be helping him run his business.

First published on 27 March 2024

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