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Podcast: The Story of a Determined Female Mechanical Fitter

Podcast The Story of a Determined Female Mechanical Fitter

Former MIGAS apprentice and now qualified Mechanical Fitter, Karly Martin, shares her apprenticeship journey in Episode 5 of the WITS About Us Podcast.

Welcome to episode 5 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 Karly Martin, a female tradeswoman based in Sydney. Hosted by Stacey Wallace, General Manager of MiTraining, we delve into Karly’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 apprenticeships like mechanical fitting, this podcast covers it all.

Access more information, updates, and resources about the WITS About Us Podcast. Remember to subscribe on your favourite podcast platforms, such as Apple, Spotify, Google, 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 5

Episode 5 Transcript

  • Read the WITS About Us Podcast transcript

    Host: Welcome back to the Wits About Us Podcast. Today, we're speaking with Karly, a female tradeswoman based in Sydney. She shares about the unexpected rewards you'll get as an apprentice and why mindset matters. Let's dive into the episode. Good morning, Karly.

    Karly: Morning. 

    Host: How has your day started?  

    Karly: Yeah. Alright. And yours.

    Host: Oh, really? Well, thank you. It's a beautiful, blue, sunny day today. You have recently completed a trade. 

    Karly: That's correct, correct. 

    Host: What did you do?

    Karly: I just finished my fitting and machining apprenticeship. 

    Host: Amazing. And where did you do that, Karly? 

    Karly: So I started my TAFE experience in Wetherill Park, and I was working at BOC and I went through Wetherill Park TAFE to Mount Druitt through to Ultimo and back to Wetherill Park. So moved around a little bit. 

    Host: So, and just for those people listening, whereabouts is Wetherill Park?

    Karly: Wetherill Park is based in Sydney. 

    Host: Brilliant. And tell me a little bit about the reason why you got into a fitting and machinist trade.

    Karly: I decided to go for a fitting and machinist trade because my dad influenced me to go down this road. To be honest, it wasn't what I originally wanted to do. I wanted to, I started off wanting to do something around sport. I'd done a year in college back in the UK, studying for a diploma in sport and fitness, and I decided to come over to Australia with my parents to start a new life. After that, I decided I wanted to do something around animal care and I got turned down by TAFE because not many people wanted to do it.

    So I kind of plodded around kind of umming and ahing about what I wanted to do with my career, and my dad went, why don't you go try this? I was like, Hmm, okay, I'll give it a go. You know? So I had a look at all these different apprenticeship sites and everything like that and applied for so many, but there was only one company that got back to me, and that was MIGAS.

    Host: Wow, that's interesting. 

    Karly: Yes. 

    Host: Well, firstly, well done MIGAS for getting back to you. Now talk me through what happened after they did get back to you. What was the process like?

    Karly: I went for, I believe, two interviews. I had an interview with MIGAS, and they just kind of gave me an insight into what it could be like and stuff like that. You know, they asked me what experience I had within different industries, and once they were happy with it, they put me forward to different companies.

    BOC was one of the companies that said 'Yep, we'd like to interview her.' So we went for an interview through BOC, and BOC came back the same day after my interview and said, 'yep, we would like to take you on.' So it was really good. 

    Host: Wow. You must have impressed them. Karly, I'm interested in the kinds of experience that you did have going into the role. What did you tell the MIGAS interviewer when they asked you about your experience? 

    Karly:  I've had a little bit of experience within different industries before. I worked at a factory previously back in the UK and all I was doing was picking and packaging, but I kind of had the experience of working in an industry place. But I've also had an experience of being very hands-on. My dad's always taught me to try and do things myself.  

    We've always been doing house renovations and working on cars and everything like that. So, I've always had that background of wanting to be hands-on and always just kind of figure it out. Which was kind of what made me kind of get the job in the first place. To be honest, I think without that experience and that determination to want to be able to do something, I probably wouldn't have done it. 

    Host: And it was your dad that encouraged you?  

    Karly: Yes, he was. 

    Host: What does he do?

    Karly: He's a technician, so he's also got the electrical background, the fitting, the machining. He does everything. 

    Host: Wonderful. And it's great that you were able to grow up with him and kind of be his sidekick in a way and help him kind of with practical things you said around the house and renovating, etc. So, BOC has swiftly offered you a job?  

    Karly: Yes. 

    Host: Did you accept on the day? 

    Karly: Yes, I did. I've now been full-time with BOC for over three months. I think it's coming up to four months, and this month. So yeah, very happy about that. 

    Host: Wow, that's incredible. And so you finished your trade, and they offered you a full-time job? 

    Karly: Yes, they did. I was very lucky to have a position open up as I was coming out of my apprenticeship. 

    Host: That's great. And all that hard work paid off, no doubt. 

    Karly: Yes.  

    Host: And so, wanting to snap you up straight away. Do you remember what it was like on your first day? 

    Karly: Oh, I do, actually. It was really difficult, you know, you're coming into this industry where you've never really been before. You don't know any of the people, and you're kind of nervous to try and get stuck in, and, you know, it takes a while.

    But I remember the first ever job that I was called to do, and we call it AD sludge. And basically, it's a messy job, and if you don't do it properly, something could go wrong. But that's the same with any job, you know. So, it was pretty scary, to be honest, but I was very lucky to be put into a team of people where they were very accepting of me and, you know, even though I had minor knowledge of what the job was and stuff like that, they were very keen to show me what to do on that day. But they were, they continued that throughout my whole apprenticeship, which was great. 

    Host: Wow. So, it sounds like it's really important to have a supportive team with you throughout your whole apprenticeship. 

    Karly: Yes. 

    Host: For those people listening today, in your own words, describe what a fitter and machinist does.

    Karly: So, fitter and machinist is finding a way to make something work that might seem impossible to get to work. You have to be very mindful of what could go wrong if something doesn't work. But you also need to be able to identify what the issue is and how you're gonna resolve it. You need to be able to think outside of the box and come up with your ideas to get it running in a quick and timely manner, but also in a safe way.  

    Host: And safety is really important. What would you say then for people who are interested in getting into this career? Are the really important personal skills that you need? So, obviously, you learned the technical skills, and you were surrounded by a great team that supported you to acquire those. But what about yeah, the other skills that you need to be successful in this kind of work?  

    Karly: To be honest, coming into the apprenticeship, you don't need that many skills. You're going to gain those skills along the way, so everyone in your team is gonna help you with those. You know, if you're not great at teamwork or communication, it's all gonna come naturally to you throughout the journey.

    But I would recommend for anyone, female or male, to make sure that you take on board what everyone says because it is so important they've been through that journey before. They know how it goes; just make sure you listen to them and take their advice. It will help you.

    Host: Thank you. That's such wonderful advice. So active listening and, I suppose, being like a sponge and absorbing all of the new knowledge. 

    Karly: Yes. 

    Host: What got you through in the first three to six months?  

    Karly: Oh, three to six months. To be honest, it was probably the friendships that I made at work, but also my family. Without ever having those people to talk to and kind of express my feelings, I probably wouldn't have gotten through it, to be honest.

    You have a lot of days where you feel like you just want to kind of quit. You feel like you're not doing the right things and stuff like that, but you kind of, you can either go to your boss, if you've got that good connection with him and just kind of express your feelings. And my boss was really good. He was kind of, he was able to talk me out of it a little bit and kind of said, look, you can do it. There's gonna be another job that you won't be able to do but will be here to support you. But even when you go home, you kind of go home in a really sad emotional state.  

    But my parents were really good; they kind of picked me up and said, look, tomorrow's going to be a different day. There's gonna be different jobs. Just keep on doing what you can do, and you'll get through it.

    Host: I love that you've just in point, you've pointed out how important it is to be vulnerable and honest. 

    Karly: Yes. 

    Host: With yourself, with your colleagues, and with the people at home so you can access the support that you need to get through. What's probably the most difficult stage, which is the first stage? The first three to six months. Can you share with me a moment throughout your apprenticeship that you'll never forget?

    Karly: A moment throughout my apprenticeship, probably it is the day that BOC let me use my ideas to manufacture a part that we've been using in our automotive size. So we've got these six-axis robots at BOC that pick and sort all of our cylinders, and we have this it's like a pro interface plate. And what it does is it, the robot comes along and it puts a cylinder down onto the interface plate for it to be held into position. We had lots of complications with the original design that was placed there and BOC allowed me to try and redesign the original design.  

    And the design that I came up with, it's gone ahead and we've been manufacturing and producing these interface plates to be used. And currently, we've done, I think it's around 26 interface plates.  

    And I think we still have another 12 or so to do, but they've been going well. We've been having fewer breakages, which means that the timeframe and stuff like that it's been going so much better. But it was great to have that opportunity to be able to kind of put my mind to the test and use everything I've learned to try and make something better for the company. 

    Host: Congratulations. That is incredible. I'm just blown away by your problem-solving skills and your innovation, and BOC also gives you the opportunity and leverage your creativity and your skills. How did you go about that? So when they said to you, you know, have a go at solving this problem,  what was the process like? Was it like a design process? How did it work? 

    Karly: It was more of a trial-and-effort error process, to be honest. So I took the original design, and I kind of spotted what the issues were with it.  

    So it was binding up on different positions and stuff like that. And I've wanted to eliminate that. I decided to machine up some new bushes, and I kind of built it all together. We installed one of them, to begin with, and we trialled it; I think it was for about three months. And we, those three months we had very minor issues. So one of the engineers said, okay, let's get the measurements, and we'll send off all the measurements to the manufacturer or the machinists that we get to do all of our parts.  

    And they just made a ton load of bushes and stuff that I had originally produced, and they just said, yep, let's carry on building them. 

    Host: That's incredible. Well done. 

    Karly: Thank you.

    Host: And throughout your apprenticeship, was there someone that you looked up to, a mentor perhaps, or someone that you wanted to emulate that you wanted to be like?  

    Karly: No one in particular, to be honest. I think everyone at BOC kind of influenced me to wanna be part of them. So, my boss was a very big part of it for me. He taught me to have more pride in my work and have more confidence, whereas everyone else, everyone's got their different skills. And you learn all of those different skills from each different tradie, and you basically, you take everything on board and you go, yeah, that's cool. I wanna be able to do that. So you just, you wanna hang around them a little bit, and you gain those skill sets that they've got, but they're more than happy to share them with you. So it was also really good.

    My dad as well, you know, so wanting to be like him, you know, kind of seeing what he can do, and you know, he's been good at renovating all the houses that we've owned and stuff like that. So it influenced me to try and renovate houses with him, and yeah, everyone's really inspiring. 

    Host: So you are saying that the skills that you've learned on the job as an apprentice and now a fully qualified tradesperson are transferable into your personal life.  

    Karly: Yes.

    Host: You're now using them to renovate your house, which is incredible. With BOC, I loved the examples that you've given and how they are encouraging you to bring your unique abilities and skills to the table as part of the team. Now, BOC has been a host employer with MIGAS for several years, and they're a valued partner.  

    For those of the people out there that don't know what BOC do, what do they do? 

    Karly: So BOC is a gas production. So we've got far different sites around the whole world, to be honest. The one that I'm at in Wetherill Park, we are just the production of filling and handling cylinders. But in other sites, it's also the production of the gas.  

    So how they would get all the mixtures and stuff like that and how they'd vent its atmosphere. It's incredible all the work that they do. Some of the stuff you, I will not know from being at the Wetherill Park site, but if I was to go to a different site, they would be a similar process, but it would be different in a way because they do different things at different sites.  

    Host: They sound like a great place to work.

    Karly: Yes, definitely. 

    Host: And we've established that Wetherill Park is in Sydney. And it's a well-known fact that the wage that you earn while you are earning and studying and learning on the job takes into account that you are an apprentice. How did you go living on an apprenticeship wage, especially in Sydney, during that time?  

    Karly: It's really hard to be honest. In the first year of my apprenticeship, I started on $7.50, which is pretty much next to nothing, to be honest. But you know, you've got people around you that kind of support you. I was lucky enough to have my parents around me. They helped me financially quite a lot, but those who may not have those connections with people can get a mature wage, so they can be on more than $7.50, for instance. But it is definitely cope-able, and it is; it kind of you need to be able to think of it as, yep, I'm doing an apprenticeship, and at the end of my four years, I'm gonna be at such a better place. It's worth the wait, even though you might not be able to have all of those things that you love and you know everything that you want within those four years, but at the end, you'll get what you want.  

    Host: So there's sort of a sacrifice, I suppose, in the short term, but in the whole span of your career, that's a very short, you know, four years, isn't it? 

    Karly: Yes. Definitely.

    Host: Did you study through TAFE? 

    Karly: Yes, I did. Okay. 

    Host: How did studying through TAFE help you with the job? 

    Karly: Okay. So studying through TAFE kind of gave me a little bit of confidence to wanna be able to carry on. TAFE was very tough for me. I was very, I felt very isolated. I'm not very good at mingling with different people, but it wasn't necessarily a bad thing because it helped me keep my head down, which meant that I wanted to be more productive in my lessons. And I found theory very hard as well. 

    I'm not a reader, writer, or a test person whatsoever, but you know, as you go along and you kind of do all these theory tests, you kind of gain your confidence more because you start to realise what you can do, even though you're not doing it physically, but you can actually think about it mentally and then put that mental force down to a mechanical item.  

    So all of those hand tools, the power tools, all the minor things that you learn at the beginning of your apprenticeship through TAFE, you will use everything back in your job and also at home. 

    Host: I love that you just were so honest about how you perceived yourself at the beginning. You know that you weren't necessarily a test person, but as you progressed, you gained the confidence, and you knew how to apply yourself in that setting. That's just brilliant. I did hear that throughout your apprenticeship you were nominated for an award.

    Karly: Yes.

    Host: Congratulations. 

    Karly: Thank you. 

    Host: Tell me a little bit about that and what it was like going through the process. 

    Karly: So this was a New South Wales Training Award. It was a pretty quick process, to be honest. 

    All I had to do was apply. MIGAS had helped me through this application. So they kind of, they came to me, and they asked me to write out like a kind of like a script of what I've done throughout my apprenticeship, what got me into my apprenticeshipand they sent it forward and the person coming from the award place as she phoned me up and said, we would like to interview you, and I then went through a little mock interview with some people from MIGAS. And they helped me out, kind of prepared me for some questions that they might have asked, and they got me ready, and I kind of went into the interview with the people from the awards, and I was very nervous, but you know, I got through it.  

    I'm not good at answering questions on the spot, but I got there. Unfortunately, I wasn't successful in the end, but I got further than I thought I would, to be honest, and that doubt that I had at the beginning of the process, I kind of thought, well, I know I'm not gonna get through to the end, so I didn't want to do it anyway, but everyone around me was kind of like, yeah, no, you gotta do it. 

    You know, you've been so good, you know, you've had such a great experience. So, I went through it even though I didn't get it. It was a good experience, and it's worth going for any awards that you can go for.

    Host: Well done for getting out of your comfort zone and going through that process and, you know, doing that interview.

    Throughout our discussion and chat so far, you've mentioned a couple of things about your perception of yourself and growing in confidence. And just then you mentioned a little bit about doubt. Tell me about the importance of self-talk in terms of being successful in a trade-based career. 

    Karly: Self-talk is so important. If you aren't able to control your thoughts, and kind of give yourself that mental push and stability, not to sound like a biased person or anything, but you won't get through it. You know, I went through so many low stages from my apprenticeship where I thought, no, I can't do this.  

    You know, I just wanna quit, but you've gotta take every day as it comes. And that's basically what I've done. 

    Host: That's great advice. Staying in the present moment, just taking each day as it comessurrounding yourself with supportive people at work and home, and employing positive self-talk.

    And so far, that's your recipe for success in terms of getting through an apprenticeship and being successful. If you do those things as well as take on board and listen to what's being said to you daily, your confidence will grow, and you will be successful.  

    Now, this is a Women in Trades podcast, so I'm very curious: throughout your apprenticeship, were you surrounded by other women on-site at the workshop?

    Karly: No, definitely not. Even at BOC and at TAFE, you would, it would be very rare to see another female. Within the workshop at TAFE, I was the only female, and the only time I would probably see another female was when I was walking to my car, and that was it.

    At BOC, the only females that are there work in the office. So, you know, you're never really around that female environment. You've gotta get used to being within the male areas, and it's, it can get very hard.  

    But I'm finding nowadays, most males are actually pretty willing to let females come down into their area, the personal space. And kind of set them as who they want to be. 

    Host: And they've become your mates. 

    Karly: Yes, definitely, mates that hopefully can keep for a very long time.  

    Host: Yeah. I can see that they've been very accommodating, supportive, and inclusive of you. If you were to give advice to someone like yourself who was leaving school and you had that added complication of moving to Australia as well on top of it but going from school to an apprenticeship that is a female, what would you say to them now knowing what you know? 

    Karly: My main advice to anyone who wants to go do an apprenticeship is to give it a good go.  

    You'll have the days where you just, you don't want to do it anymore, but you need to be able to make those connections with everyone at work and outside of work, you know, through TAFE. Anything that's gonna help you get through.

    I can guarantee you, even though those hard days are there, by the end of it, you're gonna be so happy. You're gonna gain so much more freedom, skills, and knowledge that you can use inside and outside of work, and is worth the wait.  

    Host:  That's good, Karly, because what you're pointing out there is that it is a challenging road. It's peppered with challenges and things that you need to problem solve, both from a personal nature and also from a technical skills nature. But there are rewards for doing that. One is when you finish, and you become a fully qualified person with different pay.  

    What are the other rewards that you would say have been present for you? 

    Karly: Some other rewards, rewards, to be honest, are probably the friendships that you build, the friendships that you are never really gonna lose. You know, being in the trade, the people that are just gonna come and go. But you know that the friends that you start to make at the beginning of your apprenticeship, if they stay within throughout your apprenticeship, you're gonna know them for a very long time.  

    I was lucky enough to have lots of permanent employees at BOC that kind of stuck around me and you know, gave me their time of day. But you're still gonna have those people, the contractors and stuff like that, they're gonna come into your work, and you know, you're kind of go, kind of gonna be standoffish a little bit.

    Host: So you're quite recent in terms of finishing your apprenticeship and starting in a full-time position; I believe that happened this year.  

    Karly: Yes. 

    Host: Tell me what it's been like being a full-time, fully-fledged tradeswoman.

    Karly:  It's been great, to be honest. I'm enjoying the freedom that I've been given. It's kind of like being your boss, in a way. You know, you get to work on your own, but also if you need help, you ask for help and people come and help you, not only that, you also kind of with the money you earn, you get to enjoy things a lot more. You get more self-time and stuff like that.

    I decided to buy myself a brand new car after I finished, which is great. It kind of makes you feel like you've achieved something even more than just finishing an apprenticeship, to be honest. 

    Host: Yeah. So I can afford you those things. That's a reward. Buying yourself a brand new car. Well done. That's really exciting. What does the future hold for you now, Karly, that you are in this position? 

    Karly: I'm probably going to look at doing some more training, to be honest. I would love to do something along the lines of electrical work. I'll probably start my disconnect/reconnect course and kind of see how I go if I enjoy it and stuff like that. If I do, I'll probably adventure on and maybe do another apprenticeship, my electrical apprenticeship.

    If I feel like that's not for me, I would also love to try and do my welding course. So just like basic welding, even though I've had some of that training already through BOC, it's still good to be able to get that training onto black and white paper, you know, so you can, when you go for a job, you can see those skill sets are there instead of just taking your word for it. 

    Host: That answer is fantastic because what you're saying is that you've done four years of on-the-job learning and formal training through TAFE. You now have a full-time job, which you love, but there's this element of lifelong learning and making sure that you stay up to date with your skills. And I suppose it sounds like you are going to be collecting skill sets.  

    Karly: Yes. 

    Host: You are even open to doing another apprenticeship altogether. That's so interesting. 

    Karly: Thank you. 

    Host:  And what about are you seeing new apprentices come into the workspace? How will you mentor them in the future? What will you do to make sure that they're successful like you were? 

    Karly: So we've had a couple of new apprentices come through to BOC. And I've been lucky enough to get another female apprentice come through to the maintenance department. Everyone kind of wants to take her under their wing and show them a little bit of this and that, you know, but one of the things that I want to take care of towards her is not to be scared to express your thoughts, your feelings and all your emotions towards all the other males. 'Cause that's one of the things that I struggled with, but I want her feel like she can talk to me if she needs to.  

    You know, I'm more than happy to show her all the hands-on things and try and talk to her about all the mechanical side, but I just wanted to know that I will be there.

    Host: That is lovely. You are encouraging her essentially to be herself in the workplace, and you are there to support her to do that. Having recognised that that was a little bit of a tough journey for you. That's wonderful. Okay. So, are you seeing any changes in industry in terms of greater female representation in trades?

    Karly:  Only a little bit. To be honest, I never thought I would be able to work with another female within this trade. I've been very lucky enough to have someone come through who wants to do the apprenticeship, but to be honest, you don't hear much about female in trades and their successes and stuff like that. So, there could be some development on how they can express how other females should be going through the apprenticeship and how they should be attempting it because most people don't realise that they're capable of doing something along these lines.

    Host: Thank you. Hopefully, we can make a little bit of a difference with this podcast we're recording so that people understand that this career pathway is possible for them. Is there anything that local communities can do or organisations to champion women in trades?

    Karly: One thing that, you know, you would be good to see is more; everyone nowadays likes to watch TV. You know, they're always on YouTube and stuff like that. During the adverts, you'd normally see an advert come up for TAFE or something like that, you know, but when you're watching it, you always only see the males doing all the practical stuff, you know, working on the robot or something like that.  

    And then you've got the females that are doing all the beauty stuff. I mean, okay, maybe the mechanical side isn't for the females, but it would be nice to see them putting something a little bit different in those adverts, you know, and kind of giving women the opportunity to be a part of the male-dominated side of the advert.  

    Host: I love that. And a great recommendation for those out there doing advertising and marketing to make sure that we don't continue with those stereotypes and just popping the males in the machine of the fittest role and the females into beauty. Anyone can do those trades regardless of gender. So that's great advice. Thank you so much, Karly.

    Any other thoughts that you've got on the topic today that you'd like to tell women in Australia about taking up a trade?  

    Karly: Not really, to be honest, all I wanna say is give it a go. Don't listen to all the biased people out there; you know you can do it. Just give it your best shot and show people that you are determined, and they will help you along the way.

    Host: Great advice to end the podcast today. Karly, thank you so much. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you and congratulations on all your achievements to date, and I wish you all the very best as you continue on your career with BOC.  

    Karly: Awesome. Thank you very much. 

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

    Now, if you are 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 tradie, including a mechanical fitter like Karly, get started in an apprenticeship with MIGAS. We’ll find a great workplace to do your hands-on training and support you every step of the way until you’re fully qualified.

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


Published 30/11/2023

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.