TWA interviewed Kim recently to gain her insights into the construction industry as well as her role as a chippie in the domestic sphere. Kim is a 4th year chippie, based in Sydney, completing her apprenticeship and undertaking her builder’s course in 2021. She has extensive experience in a range of industries before she found her passion in working as a carpenter, juggles work and family responsibilities as a mother to a 12 year old daughter, and is a committed advocate for more women entering her industry and receiving the right support throughout their journey.
A Typical Day on Site
I start my day a bit before 7am. I either get straight in there to finish off anything from the previous day, or set up the site for any jobs we’re going to be completing that day. I put the radio on first thing – I need my music before anything else! (laughs). For example, we’re in the final stages of renovating a heritage building, so I’m installing locks, bathroom fixtures, skirting, door stops and all the finishing touches. No day is the same, particularly with this job – you never know what new issues you are going to find when working on an old building. We don’t really touch commercial work, but also do a lot of new domestic builds, renovations, and jobs for the Council for example sports club houses and beach amenities.
Background and Influencers
I completed Year 12 while at school I worked at BBC Hardware (now Bunnings) for a while. My mum and dad both worked in the hardware industry. – I never consider taking up a trade, or thought of that as an option as it wasn’t something that females did. I also dabbled with working in dog grooming, hospitality, hotels and marketing as well. I moved around in different areas to try and find something that I was passionate about, but I couldn’t find it and started to lose faith that I would find something that I loved to do. I have also taken some time off work so I could work on my mental wellbeing.
My brother had started a building company up when he was younger, and unfortunately ended up having an accident playing football where his neck was broken, and had to learn to walk again. He couldn’t work on the tools full time again, so he worked in project management instead in all different building sectors, He’s been working in the industry for about 25 years, about 5 years ago he started up his own business again TCM Construction Group – a year into it I was offered a place in his company to help him out on site doing some labouring. I really wasn’t sure – “can I do that? “I’m a girl” What’s my fitness like?” “– but I thought positively in that I would give it ago and that my fitness would get better over time. I did all sorts of things for the business at the start – labouring, planting, painting, and I loved being outside and doing all kinds of things. After about six months, my brother wanted me to take on an apprenticeship – it never really crossed my mind because of my age and my gender, so I brushed it off. He approached me and encouraged me again to consider an apprenticeship – so did all the other guys that worked for us – I did agree to it and to give it a try. To be honest, I did feel really nervous about it, full of self-doubt, in relation to what would others think about it and if I was capable.
I did take up the apprenticeship in the end. Going back to trade school was so strange for me – it was like going back to high school, being surrounded by really young guys (some 16 years of age), taking up maths again. But I had a really good teacher and ended up really enjoying it because I loved what I was learning. Some of the guys didn’t really talk to me at the start, but after 6 to 12 months we all got on really well and then I don’t think being a woman even crossed their minds, I was just one of them. I’ve made some really good friends now and they are very supportive.
I get along with my brother really well as I treat him like my boss, we have a really respectful relationship.
Working in a Male Dominated Industry
In my first year, there was one guy that we worked with that wasn’t too respectful and I found it quite hard to back up to work every day. Id also deal with labour hire company employees that won’t take you seriously. Fortunately I didn’t ever have to deal with something major, but it was a struggle in my first year. The guys that I work with now are so lovely, they are supportive and they’re really happy to work as a team and teach me everything they know. All of the other trades we use are great too, I feel very lucky to have such a great work environment. I haven’t worked with a female tradie on site yet unfortunately, but most days it really doesn’t cross my mind that I’m the only female on site. The clients are really supportive as well – you get a few that are really surprised that I’m a female chippie, but most of them embrace it, I haven’t had any trouble dealing with clients.
The Pros and Cons of the Job
The thing I love the most about carpentry is that no day is the same. So much variety which keeps it interesting for me. I love the internal stuff – there is so much to love and learn about – cladding ceilings, remedial works, flooring, skirting, architraves, windows. The variety of internal work that you get to do as a chippie is fantastic. There are quite a few challenges on the job, because we do quite a bit of the works scope in new builds. So there’s quite a bit of manual excavation work setting out, prepping slabs, piers & formwork, building and lifting frames. it’s pretty labour intensive. Pitching a roof and roofwork, passing up huge LVL lengths is pretty tough. Working outside in heat can also be challenging too. Building a place from ground up and working on a variety of tasks, it’s incredible to see it developing. It gives you such a level of confidence and pride in what you’ve completed. It’s also great that you can go off and use the same skills you’ve gained on site to do your own projects or help friends.
The Importance of Tradeswomen Networking
The turning point for me was towards the end of my first year – I was so unsure, full of self doubt, and I didn’t know any other women in trade. That was when one of my co-workers told me about Melbourne Chippie Chick on Instagram, I started following her and at that time she had started a private group of tradie ladies and she added me to the group. Talking in the group chat sessions, I didn’t feel alone anymore, and I also started to catch up with some of the girls from the group too one on one and through group BBQs at Sydney Tools. I gained so much more confidence from talking to them, their passion for their work was really infectious, that it literally changed me and how I viewed my work. There are now over 1000 in the group now which is just amazing, It really normalized women in trades for me – we have plumbers, painters, waterproofers, roofers, sparkies, chippies, all sorts. So getting into women in trades networks is really important, particularly if you’re having a hard time on the job and struggling through your first year.
If you are passionate about doing a trade I say Just go for it! It is the best thing I’ve done. Get on to the support pages, do work experience to get a feel for it, ask for support in getting into trades, pre-apprenticeships and getting your first apprenticeship.
I received support from my partner when we were together who shared responsibilities in looking after my daughter. He looked after her in the mornings, and I looked after her in the afternoons and evenings. It’s all about establishing a good routine – getting the lunches prepared the night before, getting her to swimming lessons and all those sorts of things in between was doable because I finish at 3.30. She’s now 12, so she’s pretty self-sufficient so that makes it a lot easier. I also receive great support and flexibility from work so that I can get to attend her school plays and events.
Kim Outside of Work
My weekends and outlook have really changed. I find spare time where I look after myself – it’s all about self-care. I rest up, catch up with friends and family and spend quality time with my daughter and my dog Bear.
We thank Kim for sharing her extraordinary story, and are exited to keep following Kim in completing her apprenticeship and her ongoing journey in the domestic construction sphere.
To join Kim and many other tradeswomen in networking opportunities, why not subscribe to Tradeswomen Australia and be kept up to date on our news, activities and events?
Thanks for reading!