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It’s rare for Monique Juratovac to spot another female tradesperson. The 21-year-old apprentice from Perth joined a small minority of females who work onsite in residential construction when she unexpectedly switched careers from hairdressing to bricklaying in 2019.
It was a decision that had a fair few people, then and since, question whether she would be capable of the work. But since she is a physical or kinaesthetic learner, Monique says her career has turned out to be the perfect fit.
That’s not to say, however, that her first day on the job wasn’t downright tough.
‘I was moving scaffolding around, dishing out mud, doing labouring work and putting on mixes,’ she recalls. ‘[At the end of it] I was knackered and fell asleep on the couch as soon as I got home! It was good though, knowing I had achieved something. I love the feeling of a hard day’s work.’
Swayed rather than deterred, Monique didn’t look back and was placed to work for bricklayer Luke Anderson (through the ABN Group Training scheme) who was impressed with her potential. Although it took Monique at least two weeks to be able to push a full-mix wheelbarrow (which she soon learnt is much heavier than a barrow of bricks), it wasn’t long before she had built up enough strength to handle the more demanding aspects of the job.
In fact, she says it’s not so much the manual work but accurately setting out a job, and getting the measurements correct and plumb that she finds to be one of the more challenging tasks of the trade (that and understandably the 40-degree days).
With a genuine love of the work and drive to succeed, Monique’s technical aptitude has grown under Luke’s tutelage – her former occupation even giving her an edge in her new role. ‘A lot of the work onsite is putting up straight walls but you still need to make them look good,’ Monique explains, adding she enjoys laying bricks and seeing a home start to take shape.
‘There is a lot of attention to detail and hands-on training in both trades.’
With her current Host Trainer, she is learning ‘everything’, including being able to ‘read a plan and talk out’ – something Luke is happy to give her more independence in as she progresses through her apprenticeship. When work experience students temporarily join the crew, she is often responsible for overseeing their work and showing them how to perform a variety of tasks.
Where Monique is known for her methodical, hardworking approach, her gender is never an issue; she is treated the same as any other apprentice onsite by other building professionals. It’s when she periodically joins other teams for a day or two, however, that she feels she has to prove herself all over again.
‘They’re sceptical about my abilities at first. I have been asked before, “Do you think you can lift this from here to over that side?” and I think to myself, “Are you serious?”
‘They don’t seem to understand your limits, but when they get to know how you work then they come around.’
Monique says she would love to see more women give the construction industry a chance, particularly in non-traditional roles such as bricklaying. ‘It would be great to see more females out there showing they can do it too,’ she says. ‘For myself, seeing other females onsite is even more motivating. It shouldn’t always have to be a male-dominated industry.’
It was her positive attitude, emerging skillset and commitment to learning that saw Monique recently earn several industry accolades. This included the 2020 HIA Stratco WA Second Year Bricklaying Apprentice and Second Year Apprentice of the Year awards, as well as the Judges High Commendation Award.
Monique says she was shocked when they read out her name. ‘It was absolutely amazing, I was not expecting it, especially knowing it was the HIA. It’s great to be recognised for my work.’
According to Cath Hart, HIA Executive Director – WA, Monique’s achievements prove not only that she is very talented but also that she has an admirable work ethic. ‘This is what stood out to the judges,’ Cath says. ‘She’s already achieved so much in a short space of time…and it’s fantastic to see her flourish in her chosen trade. On behalf of the residential building industry, we can’t wait to celebrate more of her future successes.’
Moving into her third year, Monique says she is focused on completing her apprenticeship and potentially tackling a Diploma in Construction. She hopes to stay on with her Host before striking out on her own or working her way up to a supervisory role with a larger construction company.
‘When you do your apprenticeship, it opens so many doors,’ she says. ‘I’m definitely looking at the possibilities long term.’
Overall, Monique has found her apprenticeship to be a positive, enriching experience – a career shift that has helped to boost her confidence and improve her wellbeing. In an industry that is known for its above average rate of mental health concerns – and around a 50 per cent apprenticeship training dropout rate – this is no doubt a testament to the support she has received with her employer.
Grateful for the opportunities, Monique is more than willing to extend the favour down the track.
‘I think it would be really awesome to take on an apprentice to train them myself with my knowledge and see where they can go from it,’ she says. ‘I’d be happy to take on anyone as long as they are willing to work…but if there are girls out there who want to do bricklaying and give it a go, I would be behind them 100 per cent.’
With more young workers like Monique entering the industry, the future of residential building will only look brighter.