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Unitec carpentry student and mother of three shows you can do it all

Thirty-nine-year old Jaz Small says she’d always wanted to be a builder, but was put off by the constant jibes that as a female she wouldn’t be able to hack the heavy lifting and hard work.

So she travelled around a bit, and ended up working in early childhood. 

However, it was a few months after her second child was born that she couldn’t ignore the gnawing feeling that her real passion lay in doing something with her hands, and the more physically demanding, the better. 

“I’ve always much prefer being outside, so doing office jobs and working indoors really wasn’t my passion” she says. 

Encouraged by her family, she took a leap of faith and enrolled in a pre-trade carpentry course at Unitec to start in July last year. 

“I couldn’t keep using my kids as an excuse,” she says. “I knew I had to take the plunge last year. My family has been amazing with their support and encouragement, and I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Jaz became pregnant with her third child in October last year, but never considered for a minute that she’d have to put her study on hold.

She says she wasn’t viewed or treated any differently to her classmates, but she did find the adjustment to juggling study and home life, as well as the demands of pregnancy, tricky to start with.

“It was tough, especially having to drop the kids off to before school care and childcare so early so I could be on time to school. But we all got through it OK.

“I loved the course,” she says. “It obviously got harder the bigger I got, but my lecturer Terry and other staff at Unitec were fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for better support.

“All the other students were great as well. They really wanted me to succeed, and didn’t let the fact that I was pregnant stand in my way.”

Jaz was working on the relocatable houses at Unitec right up until 41 weeks pregnant.

“I felt great,” she says. “A bit tired, but I loved what I was doing. It was worth it.”

Ryda – her first son - was born at the end of June and Jaz was back at Unitec a couple of days after giving birth, finishing off her final assignment for the one-year NZ Certificate in Construction Trade Skills (NZCCT).  While she was there, Unitec presented her with a care package, full of gifts for the baby as well as a few treats for her.

“We’re so proud of what Jaz has achieved,” said Joey Pitovao, House Project Lead at the School of Trades and Services at Unitec. “Her resilience and dedication reminds us of why we work in the education sector, and why the success of our tauira is at the heart of everything we do.”

Jaz now plans to take six months off, and hoping to find an apprenticeship by early next year. 

In the meantime, she’s going to speak with friends in the building industry about doing work experience every fortnight, just to keep her hand in with the tools.

“Ryda’s great – he makes it really easy, especially when I’ve got two others to manage,” she says. “But it’s good to have a change of scenery and do something completely different, to get outside and clear my head.”


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