15 May 2023
Kathryn Billing, a structural steel welder at D&H Steel in Auckland, credits her family for sparking her interest in mechanical engineering. She completed a pre-trades certificate in mechanical engineering at Unitec in Auckland and recommends the program to school leavers interested in the trades.
“My family is the biggest influence on why I got interested in mechanical engineering,” says Kathryn. “My uncle is like an engine doctor; `we have panel beaters in the family, and my dad was in engineering as well.”
An early memory for Kathryn is her dad tinkering around with his car. While she did not get into automotive or panel-beating work, she was always interested in welding.
“I have always been fascinated about how you can shape metal. I found I was particularly good at welding, had quite a steady hand, and enjoyed it.”
Kathryn is in her second year as a full-time structural steel welder for D&H Steel in Auckland. Before that, she completed her one-year pre-trades certificate in the mechanical engineering programme at Unitec in Auckland as part of the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training (MPTT) Scholarship Programme.
“I was looking online for mechanical engineering courses and was interested in the MPTT. I went into Unitec and met Tu Nuualiitia, the student experience partner who manages the MPTT scholarships. He was able to tell me about the scholarship. I had an interview and was pleased to be offered a scholarship to help me with my studies.”
Unitec’s pre-trades programme is something Kathryn recommends for school leavers to consider doing if they are interested in getting a career in the trades.
“It is a bit of everything. Mechanical engineering covers theory and practical, so it is the best of both worlds. That is how I found my strength in welding, even though fabrication was fantastic. You get to have a feel for what your strengths are.”
A significant positive about the Unitec course is the industry connections that the lecturers have. Kathryn says they were super supportive, and she never felt under pressure.
“They gave me my start in the industry, which I am grateful for. You must have a passion for learning.”
Kathryn went from Unitec to working for D&H Steel, thanks to Tu from Unitec putting her in touch with her current boss Cameron Rogers.
“I didn’t have the confidence and thought they would not take me on, but that’s the point of getting the pre-trades qualification. It shows you already have the interest and are keen, as you have committed an entire year to something relevant to the work.”
Kathryn loves her job welding and the versatility of working with steel. She especially likes seeing the finished product installed at major projects around Auckland.
“We have a lot of projects going on at the moment. We also get to work on apartments, walkways, and the University of Auckland. The most important project I am welding big steel pipes for is the new domestic airport extension.
“I saw our first column for the airport being erected, and when you see your work out on the field, there is a lot of pride.”