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Supporting diversity in trades

  • Courtney Willan

Unitec trades student Courtney Willan has set up a student club to support people new to the industry and help remove some of the barriers that discourage women from going into trades.

In 2020, Courtney Willan was studying towards a teaching degree, but as the course progressed she realised it was a career path that didn’t suit her. Unsure of what to do next, her partner encouraged her to try a variety of courses, she says, so they signed up for a woodworking night class at a local high school.

“And I absolutely loved it, she says. “I hadn’t thought of it as option – when I went to high school, if you were academically minded you went to university, so a trade was something I hadn’t considered.”

Courtney and her partner move to Auckland from Christchurch coincided with the introduction of free training fees, which encouraged her to take a pre-trades course at Unitec, the New Zealand Certificate in Construction Trade Skills - Carpentry Level 3

“From that, I started working part-time with a company that does high-end residential builds and ended up moving into a full time role.”

She has progressed in her studies and is now in her second year of studying towards a New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry Level while doing an apprenticeship with Craft Homes. This has enabled her to move more into sustainability and building energy-efficient homes, which is an area she wants to develop her skills in, she says.

However, along the way, Courtney admits she did find working on site daunting. “Making the move from the supportive learning environment to the industry environment was harder than I thought it would be as a lot of the time as a female you can feel a bit isolated on site.

This led to her forming the Trades Diversity Association student club to help support others new to the industry, and help remove some of the barriers that discourage women from going into trades.

“Unfortunately, you still encounter some attitudes and cultures that are a bit behind in the times. But there are a growing number who can see that change is needed and are doing something about it. While this movement has rightly focused on just getting women into trades, I hope that as more and more of us are claiming that space, this focus moves to other issues like flexibility for mothers, progression into management positions and reducing inappropriate workplace culture.”

She launched the club in late July and it already has 20 members, she says, and anyone associated with Unitec is welcome to join.

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