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Podcast: Gold Medal Grit – Journey of a Heavy Vehicle Mechanic Turned Life Coach

Podcast Gold Medal Grit

Louise Azzopardi, Heavy Vehicle Mechanic and Life Coach, joins the WITS About Us podcast for episode 2 of the 6-part series on Women in Trades.

Welcome to episode 2 of the WITS About Us Podcast, brought to you by MIGAS Apprentices & Trainees.

Join us on an exciting journey as we spotlight remarkable women in the trades industry. Our 6-part series features interviews with industry experts, female apprentices, and trade career coaches, offering invaluable advice on pursuing a successful trade career.

In this episode, we interview Louise Azzopardi, Heavy Vehicle Mechanic and Life Coach.

Hosted by Stacey Wallace, General Manager of MiTraining, we delve into Louise Azzopardi's remarkable work in the trades industry, born from her journey to overcome adversity.

Get ready for fresh perspectives, real-life experiences, and captivating stories about starting a career in the Australian trades industry. Whether you're interested in electrical, mechanical, or engineering trades like fitting and turning, this podcast covers it all.

Access more information, updates, and additional resources about the WITS About Us Podcast. Remember to subscribe on your favourite podcast platforms such as AppleSpotifyGoogle, and YouTube and join us in celebrating the achievements of women in trades while inspiring others to pursue their dreams in the industry.

Watch the podcast recording on YouTube or read the transcript below.

WITS About Us Podcast: Episode 2

Episode 2 Transcript

  • Read the WITS About Us Podcast transcript

    Host: Welcome to the WITS About Us Podcast Episode 2, where we interview Australian tradeswoman Louise Azzopardi and discover how her unwavering determination and commitment to staying in the game led to her success at the World Skills Competition. 

    In Episode 2 of WITS About Us, we discuss how women can address challenges and barriers to thrive in a trade-based career. Louise, I'd love to jump into your story as a tradeswoman. To get started, I will ask you what you were doing before you decided to enter a trade-based career?

    Louise: Before I started, before I decided to enter into a trade-based career, I was literally looking for any way out of school. I grew up on a farm where we grow tomatoes, so my family grows tomatoes. I was always working with my hand, working with my Dad, like fixing machinery picking and packing vegetables. What I was learning at school was like I couldn't connect it to the 'real world' that I knew of my parent's business and work. I was like, This is not for me; I couldn't sit still, I wouldn't say I liked learning about things I wasn't interested in, and I tried to leave school in year 7. I was like, "Dad, just come and let me work on the farm," like I know what to do. I can read and write. What else do I need to know? Dad's like, "You need to stay till at least you're 10, and then you can leave, do something else, and then if you want to come back to the farm, you can afterwards".

    So, when I was in year 10, I was like, Okay, I need to decide what I will do after school. So, I decided to go into mechanics. I also rode and raced dirt bikes, and we used to fix all the bikes at home and do all our work. So, first, I was like, Okay, I want to be a motorcycle mechanic. So, I went and did work experience at our local bike shop where we used to get our parts from. They knew who I was and all that kind of thing, so there were no barriers for me being a female because they had known me for about 10 or so years as I came in and out with my Dad. So, let me do work experience there, and I loved it. But they had taken on an apprentice the year before, so they didn't have a spot for me. So, I went to the next bike shop where we got parts from sometimes, but they were different from our leading shop. They also knew me, but the same thing. They had just taken on an apprentice as well. But I was stacking up things to put on my resume, to all these businesses and referrals.

    And then, towards the end of year 10, I went to the Penrith Apprenticeship Expo. Where I had three conversations that really changed my life. The first conversation was short and sharp. We went to the stand like my parents were with me; I was 15 then. I couldn't drive, so my parents were with me. My Dad came up with me to the stand, and they said, "We wouldn't want our daughters working here. We wouldn't suggest it for you." I later found out that a male apprentice had been sexually harassed at that workshop as well. I got out of that one, but unfortunately, it's sad to hear that workshops are still like that.

    Then, our second conversation was a bit more of a lecture. So, me and my Dad went up to this stand, the next one, and this guy lectured me for, like, 10 minutes about how I couldn't be a mechanic. How I was too small to do the work. At the time, it was still motorcycle mechanics that I was after, and he's like if you can't push the big bikes around, and I don't think you can, then you won't be able to work on them.

    I was so deflated after this and like, you know, head down, kind of like Mum, Dad, can we go home now? But Mum and Dad said, "No, this is what you want; let's keep going. We're here now; let's just keep looking around. And thank God, they did push me to keep looking around because that's when I met Sarah.

    So, Sarah, at the time, was a first-year heavy vehicle mechanic. She was the same height as me and the same build as me. We were both blonde then, but it's changed a few times. But I could really see myself in her. If she can do it, then why can't I? And she encouraged me to do work experience at her work, and I did; I loved it. I applied for the job, and I got the job, and I really haven't looked back since.

    Host: Wow, that's an incredible story. Well done on your parents for encouraging you to keep going despite feeling deflated. I can see the actual changing point for you was seeing someone doing the trade precisely like you. How meaningful was that conversation for you in terms of determining the rest of your career?

    Louise: Yeah, I think, right at the beginning, when I started looking at getting into a trade, there wasn't anything deterring me. I didn't have any bad experiences behind me yet, even when I was doing work experience. They said, " You're great, but we just don't have a position for you; it wasn't like we don't want to take you on. I still hadn't reached the point where I thought I couldn't do it.

    So, I was still when I went to that Expo and had those conversations and was repeatedly told to my face. This guy kept repeating himself. He's like, you can't do it, you're too small, blah, blah, blah, you should look at something else. And that's when deflation really started. That was like, well, maybe I can't do it. And from that then, seeing Sarah, just having those two conversations, 10 minutes apart and going from that like, okay, can we just go home like, I'll just do year 11 and 12, and you know what, maybe this isn't for me. To, like, no, look, here is the evidence they're willing to take me on for work experience. They like look, Sarah is doing it there's no reason I can't. Like, this guy's just not the right person to be talking to. Like Sarah obviously has the answers, and she's doing it.

    Host: Exactly, and you've just highlighted the example of a myth versus the evidence. So, a myth versus the truth. Okay, so you've done the work experience and got the job; what was the first day like on the job?

    Louise: The first day is actually crazy. It's not the most convenient kind of first day I had. We did our two weeks of apprentice onboarding. We were working for a relatively large company. We had our onboarding where everyone on the East Coast, Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian apprentices came together, and I was the only girl in that onboarding. And there were 30 of us, and I think Sarah had been the first female apprentice they had taken on nationwide, and I was the second. And this was in 2012.

    The onboarding was great. I was pretty young. I was 15 at the time and, you know, just getting used to the adult world and all of these, like, I was used to being around lots of men and boys. I rode and raced dirt bikes, and I was, you know, did woodwork in high school. So, that wasn't new to me. It was more like, wow, now I'm an adult kind of thing.

    But then, when I actually started working in the workshop, I actually was sick for the first two days. I had gotten pneumonia, so I couldn't work for the first few days, and then I went into work after that. And it was kind of like, now looking back on it and what I tell other apprentices is like, the first six months of an apprenticeship is like being dunked by a wave in the beach. You've got all this stuff getting chucked at you. You're learning to be an adult, and for me, like, I don't think I can clearly remember anything from my first six months. It was kind of just a blur of new information, and then, you know, six months in, I kind of started to remember more things, but there was just so much new information coming at me. So many new people, and it all felt amazing, but I can't remember anything in particular.

    Host: Such an excellent description of entering into the world of work. You're becoming an adult, although you're only 15. And as you describe, that first six months was a blur. How did you manage that, looking back? How did you manage all of the learning and, you know, get through that first six months?

    Louise: It's essential to maintain a mindset of continuous learning and not waste energy criticising oneself for not knowing everything. We've all encountered individuals who claim to know it all, but often, they don't. Embrace the fact that it's okay not to know everything, especially in the beginning.

    For instance, when I started working with trucks, I was still learning the names of tools, colleagues, machines, and even the truck brands. Initially, I'd be in awe of a truck without knowing its specifics. But with time, I could identify the engine type and gearbox setup by glancing at it.

    I've observed a similar learning curve with one of my coaching clients. In her initial weeks, when I'd ask about her tasks, she'd vaguely mention working on a machine. But six months in, she can now describe in detail the specific devices and components she's worked on. It's a journey from being awed by everything to understanding and naming each aspect.

    Host: And you've just described a really essential 'learning to learn' principle which I learned in my career, which is be kind to yourself while you learn. So great advice for new people entering a trade. As you progress through your apprenticeship, do you remember that first thrill or that first achievement that you got?

    Louise: I vividly recall my first independent complete engine rebuild. As mechanics, we often undertake complete rebuilds of heavy vehicle engines, typically around 15 litres. This process spans about five days. During my apprenticeship, I rotated through various tasks. Over the first two years, I had assisted with most components of an engine rebuild, working alongside different mechanics on different parts.

    One day, a truck came in with a fault that almost always required a complete engine rebuild. My supervisor approached me, suggesting I was ready for a solo rebuild. He emphasised that I had ample time and shouldn't rush. I diagnosed the issue, confirmed the need for a rebuild, and got the go-ahead. I began dismantling the engine, cleaning parts, and identifying faulty components for replacement.

    One particularly challenging aspect was tensioning the cylinder head bolts. There are 26 of them, each requiring a torque of 300 foot-pounds plus a 90-degree turn. The tension wrench used for this task is as tall as I am. Even fully grown men, including the bodybuilders I worked with, often found this task daunting. Despite being a two-person job for safety reasons, I was determined to do the tightening myself. Halfway through, my coworker offered to swap roles, but I persisted, wanting to complete it on my own. The sense of accomplishment I felt afterwards was immense.

    The final test was starting the truck. Unlike hobby mechanics who can afford a non-starting machine, this was a customer's truck, and it had to work. I followed the procedure to build up the oil pressures and turned the key. The engine roared to life, and the feeling was indescribable. In just two years, I had progressed from not knowing essential tool names to rebuilding an entire engine by myself. As a memento, I kept a piston from that rebuild, which now sits in a display case at my parents' house. It's a testament to my journey and a reminder that I can achieve anything with dedication.

    Host: I absolutely love that you know you just learned that you can do anything, and I also love that you gave yourself the time to be successful. I remember reading a book and it said if you give yourself the time, you can complete any task. So, congratulations, what a fantastic achievement. Now we know that an apprenticeship is made up of on-the-job learning as well as structured and formal study. Tell me a little bit about how you're learning, and your study helped you in your apprenticeship.

    Louise: Yes, I absolutely loved it. As mentioned earlier, I wasn't fond of school and the traditional classroom setting. However, when it came to learning about trucks and engines, I was completely engrossed. I was the "nerdy" kid in class, always eager to absorb all the truck information.

    I recall my first day at TAFE in 2012. I wore my brand-new work shirt and pants. As I approached the classroom, I could hear the boys inside chatting and laughing. The moment I entered, the room went silent, and all eyes were on me. Their expressions gave away their thoughts. I remember thinking, "Did these guys even shower? It's Monday morning, and they're already dirty." I took my seat, and a few minutes later, the teacher began taking attendance. He read out names like Michael, Adrian, Luke, and Curtis. Then he paused, looked puzzled, and said, "Lois?" I raised my hand and corrected him, "It's Louisa." It was evident that he wasn't expecting a girl in the class, a clear indication of unconscious bias.

    Despite that initial awkwardness, I developed a strong rapport with both my TAFE teachers and peers. I learned a lot. My workplace was an engine manufacturing company, so we primarily focused on machines. TAFE, or Technical College, provided a broader perspective. It allowed me to understand different aspects of trucks, learn about various brands, and interact with apprentices at my level. It was fascinating to hear about their experiences and workplaces. Even though we were all first-year apprentices, each one of us had a unique journey.

    Host: That's really interesting, isn't it. Because you're learning on the job from your peers and colleagues. But TAFE provided you a cohort-based learning experience with people from different, uh industries or different workshops where you could learn from as well. Let's talk about that a little bit more. You mentioned you were 2 of 30 apprentices at your company. What was that like, and how did you navigate it?

    Louise: Yeah, so regarding that, across the eastern coast, I was the only girl in that first-year group. However, at our specific workplace, Sarah and I were the only girls in a workshop of about 40 people. There were roughly five apprentices in each year, totalling about 20 apprentices. It was an intriguing dynamic. Sarah was a few years older than me when she started; I believe she was around 19. In contrast, I began at 15. So, I was navigating this environment as a 15-year-old girl alongside boys aged 16 and 17. Technically, I was doing well. I loved the work and picked up the skills quickly. However, socially, I faced challenges.

    Looking back, I realised that I missed out on the typical socialising experience of years 11 and 12, which would have been in a mixed group of guys and girls. Instead, I was predominantly around men. In that workshop environment, many of the men would often discuss women in derogatory ways. This was challenging for me.

    To complicate matters, I entered into a relationship with a fellow first-year apprentice from the same workplace. He insisted we keep our relationship a secret to avoid workplace complications. After our relationship ended, I discovered he had a girlfriend throughout our time together, which explained his insistence on secrecy. A few years later, after he left the workplace, rumours began circulating about our past relationship. Another female mechanic, who had since joined us, informed me of the derogatory comments being made about me. This devastated me. I felt guilty, thinking I was reinforcing the stereotype that women enter trades just to be with men.

    One day, while tensioning a fan belt on a truck, I accidentally bumped my head. I informed my supervisor, who advised me to monitor for signs of a concussion. Later, when I returned to him, unable to concentrate, he suspected it wasn't the bump causing my distress. He placed me in the first aid room, and the admin manager, another woman, came to speak with me. I broke down, sharing my struggles. She then took me to HR, initiating an investigation.

    The investigation worsened my situation. As my coworkers were questioned about the incidents, they began to distance themselves from me, thinking I was trying to get them fired. My friendships deteriorated, I faced bullying, and I felt isolated. This was during my fourth year of apprenticeship. While things improved slightly afterwards, the emotional scars from that period still lingered.

    Host: How did you get through it? What was the outcome, really?

    Louise: I ended up receiving a final written warning from the ethics investigation due to what had transpired in the first year with one of my apprentice peers. However, I began seeing a counsellor. The admin manager served as my support person throughout the ordeal. We would have lunch together every week, during which we discussed my wellbeing and progress. Fortunately, I had some exceptional male mentors in my life. Even though we didn't discuss the situation in detail, and they might not have fully grasped everything, they believed in my capabilities as a mechanic. They were committed to helping me as much as possible. I also had some very supportive friends who stood by me during this challenging time. Later on, I decided to move to a different workplace, aiming to start afresh and gradually move past those earlier challenges.

    Host: Wonderful, and for those listening to the podcast today, um, here at MIGAS, we have vacancies for apprentices, and you can apply and your place with a host employer. Throughout that process, we assign you with a field officer, which is the support person that you have from the very beginning.

    Louise, it's wonderful that you were able to seek out that admin person and have those male mentors in your life. But I just thought it was important to point out that going through MIGAS, you'd have that set up from the beginning, and you would have that support, and that's someone that you could talk to from the very beginning. Which sounds like it's essential in the journey of an apprentice, and the other thing, too, is your mental health. It sounds like you were able to seek support, and then this was sort of back when it started in 2012. It's great that you knew where to go to access that support.

    So, you've dusted yourself off. You've overcome a very big challenge. No doubt had a lot of learning along the way. You've finished your apprenticeship. Fantastic. What happens now in your story?

    Louise: Yes, there were several overlapping stories during that time. In my fourth year of apprenticeship, while the investigation was ongoing, my mentor nominated me for the World Skills competition. The World Skills competition is akin to the Olympics for tradespeople. It spans about 60 different categories, from hairdressing and boilermaking to carpentry and mechanics. In 2015, I competed in the heavy vehicle segment of the Regionals. With only a week's notice for the competition, my primary goal was not to finish last. Given the ongoing ethics investigation and the cold treatment I was receiving at work, I viewed the competition as a fresh start. To my surprise, I secured second place, which was an incredible achievement.

    Although the first-place winner automatically advances to the national competition, I was told that there might be openings for second-place winners like me. In 2016, I learned that I had been selected to compete nationally. Determined to excel, I completed two skill sets offered by TAFE in auto-electrical and mobile plants to broaden my expertise.

    However, midway through 2016, while things had somewhat stabilised at my primary workplace, I began facing issues with one of the supervisors. He had a reputation for bullying, and it seemed it was my turn to be his target. I tried addressing the issue with him suggesting a more respectful way of communication, but it was short-lived. I began to question my passion for mechanics.

    Around this time, I took up a part-time job to gain more experience in preparation for the National World Skills competition. I enjoyed this job, which involved working on various machines. One day, while discussing my career frustrations with a friend, she pointed out that I still enjoyed the part-time mechanic job. It was a revelation. I approached my part-time employer, inquired about a full-time position, and soon transitioned to working there full-time. This decision proved to be one of the best I ever made.

    A month later, I participated in the National World Skills competition. My new boss, who had competed in the 1980s, provided immense support. I became the first female to compete in the heavy vehicle category nationally in Australia. Moreover, I was the first female to win the competition. The victory was overwhelming, given the social challenges I had faced. For about a week after the win, I would become emotional every time someone congratulated me. It was a surreal yet incredible experience.

    Host: Congratulations! What a phenomenal experience! and the first woman ever to win that competition in Australia and to compete in Australia. It's exciting because it points out that you were absolutely technically competent; you were the best in Australia at being a heavy vehicle mechanic. But when you were working in your first place of employment, you kept telling yourself that people had a perception of you; how was it how vital is that self-talk in navigating an apprenticeship? Would you say like for someone starting out now, for example?

    Louise: Yes, self-talk is crucial. I actually conducted a workshop on it to provide people with the necessary tools. The way you converse with yourself can make all the difference. True confidence emanates from within. If you're constantly seeking validation from others regarding your abilities, you'll find it inconsistent. People have varied interpretations of what's good and what isn't. However, your own perception of what is good is paramount. After all, you spend the most time with your thoughts, constantly conversing with yourself in your head. It's essential to analyse this self-talk. Ask yourself: What am I telling myself that's accurate? What misconceptions am I holding onto? What are the facts behind my thoughts?

    Moderate anxiety is a common emotion for many. It becomes problematic when it's overwhelming and hinders your actions. Often, we experience anxious thoughts and try to dismiss them. However, ignoring these feelings is akin to telling a toddler they can't have something they desire; their yearning only intensifies. But if you address the toddler's needs, their interest often wanes quickly.

    Similarly, with anxious thoughts, it's beneficial to confront them. Ask yourself: What is the root of my anxiety? Do I need to double-check something? Should I prepare more? Is something feeling off? By addressing these thoughts logically, you can determine their validity. For instance, if you're anxious about a test, consider whether you've prepared enough. If you've already studied extensively, perhaps what you need is rest. By logically assessing and addressing your concerns, you reduce internal conflicts.

    Host: And that's probably a good segue to talk about how you've now become a coach of young females, and you're essentially mentoring them to be successful in the industry. Tell me a little about that role and the types of clients you work with.

    Louise: I started my own business in 2013, coaching and mentoring tradeswomen and tradies. Now, it's 2021. I'm trying to calculate how many years it's been, but it's roughly two and a half years. This role has been an incredible journey. Essentially, I crafted this business based on what I wished I had during my challenging times. There were moments when I felt judged, and I believed no one would want to hear about my struggles. Some people dismissed my concerns, saying they weren't significant. Others told me I was doomed, suggesting that no one would respect me.

    Being able to sit, listen, and offer practical solutions for these issues, which aren't typically discussed in mainstream conversations, has been fulfilling. For instance, workplace relationships are a reality, but the tools needed to navigate or move past them aren't often talked about. Since sharing my story, several women have approached me with similar experiences. They've told me about dating colleagues who later became bullies at work. These women hesitated to report the issue to HR or confront the individual because they felt it was their fault for dating them in the first place. I emphasise to them that just because they dated someone and it ended doesn't give that person the right to bully them at work. The two situations aren't mutually exclusive.

    I provide these women with tools and a listening ear. We also delve into building confidence in the trade. As an apprentice, you're hired primarily to learn, and it's essential to navigate through any sexism or unconscious bias that arises. If someone behaves in a sexist manner, how should you respond? How can you initiate a conversation that fosters change? How can you prevent someone's comments from undermining your confidence and self-worth? It's crucial not to let one or two individuals' opinions define your self-perception as a tradie, especially when many others hold you in high regard.

    Host: So, what would you say to someone who was trying to have that courageous conversation? How do they go about that?

    Louise: I break it down into a three-step process. First, we need to identify the exact behaviour that is bothering you. It's similar to giving feedback to someone; the input needs to be specific so that they can make the necessary changes. Even if someone is exhibiting multiple behaviours that upset you, address them one at a time. When you inundate someone with too much feedback, it can become overwhelming, and they might not make any changes.

    For instance, I had a conversation with a supervisor who was troubling me at a previous workplace. The specific issue was that he wouldn't look me in the eyes and expected me to answer a question he hadn't verbally posed. To address this, I would start the conversation by saying, "Last week, when you stood next to me and expected me to update you without asking, it bothered me. It felt like you didn't respect me." So, the structure is to mention the behaviour, explain why it's problematic, and then suggest what you'd like them to do differently.

    Continuing with the example, I'd say, "Last week, when you didn't look me in the eye and inquire about the task, it made me feel undervalued and uncomfortable. I'd prefer if you approached me and said, 'Hey Louise, can you update me on this job?' I believe that would make me feel more included, and I'd be more than willing to keep you informed."

    Scripting such conversations can be straightforward, but the challenge often lies in actually confronting the person. It's amusing because the supervisor I had this conversation with was a massive bodybuilder, standing around six feet tall, while I'm only 160 centimetres. Preparing for that conversation involved rehearsing in front of a mirror and referring to notes to ensure I communicated my feelings clearly. It's wonderful to practise in the mirror or even have notes with you during the conversation to provide clarity.

    Host: Excellent. And that's a really great framework for having a difficult conversation, whether it's with another female or a male in the workforce. That's really great that you're scaffolding that and helping people who you are coaching. What are some success stories that you're hearing from your coaches? It's been about a decade since you've started your trade. What's going on in the industry now?

    Louise: Yes, the landscape is starting to shift. While some of the problems remain the same, there's now more support and a stronger community, especially with the advent of social media. Many of us might still be the only women on a worksite, but we're connected with hundreds of other women from all over the world and across the country through social media platforms. This sense of community is much more prevalent now. As a result, I've noticed there's less imposter syndrome among women in the trades, mainly because it's easier to see other women thriving in similar roles, thanks to the visibility provided by social media.

    Another significant change I've observed is the journey of some women in the industry. For instance, I recently caught up with a young woman who, four years ago, was struggling to secure an apprenticeship. Now, she's a qualified professional. She can confidently walk into a workplace and start her job the very next day. If she feels mistreated or undervalued, she knows she has the option to leave and find another job almost immediately. This is a stark contrast to her initial challenges of trying to get a foot in the door. It's empowering to see that she now recognises her worth and knows that if a workplace doesn't treat her right, she can easily find another that will.

    Host: Great. So, you don't need to put up with that behaviour in the workplace. It's just simply a matter of giving the feedback. If things don't change, walking out the door and finding that next position, would you say?

    Louise: Yes, that's pretty much the case. When I delve deeper into the topic of sexism, one of the most crucial aspects is recognising when enough is enough. You can engage in countless conversations and work on improving your self-talk, but if someone consistently mistreats you despite your efforts to address the issue, it's essential to realise that other places will value and hire you.

    I recall transitioning from my first job to my second as a mechanic. I was burdened with the notion that I was fortunate to have a career as a woman and that no other place would hire me. However, when I ventured out and sought another position, I realised it wasn't as challenging as I had imagined. A lot of these fears were, in a sense, "in my head." Admittedly, some individuals had reinforced these fears by telling me how "lucky" I was to have a job as a woman. But such notions aren't accurate.

    As an employee, especially after your initial years, your skills become your primary asset. With the current skill shortage in many sectors, employers often think, "You're in your second year; you have skills A, B, and C? Great, you're hired," regardless of gender. And if a potential employer rejects you solely based on your gender, it's probably for the best that such a door remains closed.

    Host: You don't want to work there.

    Louise: Yeah, no, like, yeah, cool. You stay over there; I'll get a job somewhere else.

    Host: Okay, that's where we're at now. Do you have a vision for the future of tradeswomen? What do you want it to look like?

    Louise: Really, I want the conversation about being a tradeswoman to be non-existent. I want it to be seen as normal, just like any other job. It should be as gender-neutral as any other profession. It shouldn't be a big deal. It shouldn't elicit reactions like, "Oh my God, you want to be a mechanic? Isn't that going to be hard?"

    I recall when I became a trainer and assessor, having spent a few years in that role before transitioning into coaching. Someone told me that being a female trainer and assessor for mechanics would be challenging. I thought, "I've been in this industry for seven years. I'm well aware of its challenges." But the point is, there shouldn't even be a conversation about it. It's just a job.

    Furthermore, when considering the experiences of men in the industry, it's worth noting that construction has the highest suicide rate. There's a reason for that. Some of the situations that women face and discuss are not beneficial for men either. As an industry, there's a shift occurring, and it's moving in the right direction, benefiting not just women but men as well.

    Host: Yes. I would agree. Mental health and how to respond to mental health is absolutely more at the forefront now than it ever has been. And just a note for our listeners: MiTraining, which is a fully owned subsidiary of MIGAS, offers Mental Health First Aid training. So therefore, you can understand about the different mental health challenges and, importantly, know how to respond to someone who is suffering from a mental health issue and to get them connected to support as quickly as possible. And MiTraining now has courses available across Australia as well as an online course.

    I think it's more important that people start to invest in mental health knowledge so that we can all support each other in the workplace and just to recognise the signs of someone who is struggling in this area and to be able to reach out to them. Would you agree, Louise?

    Louise: Definitely. Reflecting on my past, especially during the time when I was in that first workplace and being so hard on myself, there were numerous physical signs indicating that mentally, things weren't alright. I transformed from someone who would start work two hours early to someone who barely made it on time. I became less friendly, lost interest and pride in my work, and wanted to leave the moment my shift ended, despite previously being someone who would consistently work two hours of overtime. These changes in behaviour are clear indicators that someone might be struggling mentally, socially, or with any other invisible challenges. There are always physical signs that people can observe and pick up on.

    Host: You have just pointed out a list of signs that training says that we need to look out for people in the workplace. Which highlights the importance of having that training for supervisors and colleagues so people can really rally around each other and support one another.

    I'm really curious now as we start to draw towards the end of the podcast. You were 15 years old when you created your apprenticeship. You're now a coach. You've been highly successful in your career. I have a couple of questions to close us out today, but the first one is, how did you remain connected to your love and passion for your trade throughout the experience?

    Louise: Really, it all goes back to why I started in the first place. I recall that initially, I was searching for a position as a motorcycle mechanic. However, after spending a week gaining work experience with trucks, I had an epiphany. I thought, "This is it. This is my life. I never want to stop working around trucks."

    During those challenging times, when I found myself crying in my favourite hiding spot or shedding tears on my way home, contemplating giving it all up, I'd always come back to the question: "What else would I want to do?" The answer was always clear: I wanted to be a mechanic. It wasn't the work that was causing me pain; it was the people. With that realisation, I began to think about how I could continue doing what I loved, but in a different way, a way that would allow me to manage the challenges I was facing.

    Host: Exactly. And do you talk to your coaching clients about resilience and how they can sort of stay in the workforce or navigate those challenges? Is resilience a really topic of conversation?

    Louise: Yeah, I don't necessarily label it as "resilience." However, having those introspective conversations is crucial. I often ask myself, "Why do you go to work every day?" It's essential to strip everything back to its core, removing all the extraneous concerns and distractions. We often get bogged down by societal expectations and other "fluff" that, while impactful, can cloud our judgment. Once we remove that, the question becomes: "Do you genuinely enjoy your work? Do you appreciate the lifestyle it provides?" Once that foundation is clear, we can then start reintroducing elements, determining what truly matters in a given situation and what brings joy.

    Host: That's right. Keeping them with that real zero focus on what they love about their job.

    The very last question I've got for you is around the advice that you would give a young woman who is just about to enter an apprenticeship. Imagine yourself at 15, walking in those doors and starting out. There are many women across the country who are going to be inspired and encouraged to participate in a trade-based career. This is what this podcast is all about. What would you tell them?

    Louise: If someone truly loves a profession, they shouldn't let anything stand in their way. It's essential to remember the core reason for pursuing a particular path. If it's because of a genuine passion for the work, then there are plenty of workplaces out there. If one says no, move on to the next. I have friends who've had to apply to as many as 60 different jobs. Some even shortened their names on their resumes to make them gender-neutral.

    It's crucial to remember why you started in the first place. I've even written a small ebook on this topic. When applying for a job, it's beneficial to dress in a manner that allows potential employers to visualise you in the role. For instance, as a mechanic, I'd wear a long-sleeved shirt, tie my hair back, and put on work boots and pants. While it might sound a bit stereotypical, sometimes, men might need a more tangible representation to imagine someone in a particular role. Dressing the part can help break down some of those unconscious barriers and make it easier to envision you working alongside the team.

    Host: And any other final tips you've got, Louise, that we haven't discussed today that you would like our audience to hear that you haven't covered?

    Louise: Work experience is crucial. If people tell you that you don't have the skills to start an apprenticeship, it's a bit ironic. The whole point of an apprenticeship is to learn from square one. However, some employers might expect you to have a basic understanding of hand tools and similar skills. By undertaking a week of work experience or a free work placement, you can gain workshop awareness, familiarise yourself with the language, and begin to understand essential tool use. This experience can then make you the "right" applicant when you apply for jobs again.

    Host: And there's absolutely pre-apprenticeship programs out there as well that you can participate in.

    Louise, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you today and hearing all about your journey. I'm sure there are lots of women who are going to benefit from this podcast today. I just want to thank you and wish you all the best for your future.

    Louise: Thank you. It's been a great being on.

    Host: This project is funded by the Trade Pathways Program Trading Services New South Wales and produced in partnership with MIGAS Apprentices & Trainees.

    Now, if you're on the lookout for an apprenticeship opportunity, we've got a valuable resource for you. In the show notes, you'll find a link to MIGAS, where you can connect with them directly. They've been instrumental in helping thousands of tradies get qualified.

About the Podcast

This project is funded under the grant program by Trade Pathways Program - Training Services NSW.

Find an Apprenticeship with MIGAS

If you want to become a tradesperson, consider an apprenticeship with MIGAS. We’ll help you find a great place to work and guide you every step of the way until you’re fully qualified.

To find an apprenticeship with MIGAS, visit our Jobs Board.


Published 25/08/2023

In the spirit of reconciliation, MIGAS Apprentices & Trainees acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.