Meliha Birkett grew up watching her dad, Paul, working in a field he loved as a self-employed roof tiler in the Wollongong region. And while she admired her dad’s enthusiasm and passion for the trade, Meliha wasn’t sure it was the right career choice for her.
“I finished my HSC and was so overwhelmed by the different career options to choose from. I think I lacked the clarity some of my peers had at school,” Meliha said.
“But with support from my dad, I was able to see the opportunities of a secure career in roof tiling and decided to give it a go.
“I started working with dad part-time but soon realised I really loved the trade and that’s when I signed up to a roofing apprenticeship through VERTO,” she said.
Despite Australian Government statistics revealing that less than one per cent of Australia’s entire roof tiling workforce are female, Meliha is part of a growing cohort of women who have commenced a trade apprenticeship in Australia in the last five years.
According to the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research (NCVER), there has been a steady growth of women commencing trade apprenticeships, averaging around 14 per cent in the last five years.
However, competition rates are low compared to male cohorts, with women making up just 11 per cent of trade apprenticeships completed in the last five years compared to 89 per cent of men.
“I think for some women, gender stereotypes can be harmful and deter women from completing their apprenticeship,” Meliha said.
“That hasn’t been my experience. The men I work with always treat me well. They respect the hard work I put in and I enjoy learning from them. I don’t really feel any different from the rest of the team.”
Meliha believes she is fortunate to have a network that understands her working life.
“Alongside the support I get from dad, many of my female friends are tradies too. They have shown me that it’s possible, and even fun, to work in the trade industry,” Meliha said.
VERTO CEO Ron Maxwell said it was fantastic to hear stories like Meliha’s, where young people are supported to follow their passions into successful, real-life trade careers.
“Generally, studies show that, students are less likely to hear about apprenticeship career opportunities than tertiary pathways at home, in school or through career guidance programs. And this can be heightened for young women, where gender stereotypes come into play,” he said.
“These are the barriers we want to break down, helping more young people find their passion through an apprenticeship. While we often focus on what more can be done, stories like Meliha’s highlight the progress that has been made. Her family and her network are very supportive, and she knows many women pursuing trade careers.
“I hope that we will see an ever-increasing number of stories like this one, until gender disparity is no longer an issue. At VERTO, we’re committed to playing our part,” Mr Maxwell said.
Meliha hopes that by sharing her story, she inspires the next generation of women to consider a career in the trades.
“Although it can be daunting to enter a career that is so male-dominated, it’s cool to think that we are the generation of girls that are breaking down these gender stereotypes,” she said.
“Female tradies are definitely the future.”
To find out more about Apprenticeship opportunities in your area, visit www.careergate.org.au or contact VERTO on 1300 483 786 or
VERTO is a community owned, not-for-profit organisation delivering a range of apprenticeship, community support, employment and training services to assist individuals, employers and industries. We can be found in over 60 locations across the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria. For more information, visit verto.org.au.