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Ben Wilson is the CEO of St Joseph’s Affordable Homes, an innovative Catholic building and construction social enterprise, its purpose is to improve life and employment outcomes for young Tasmanians. An initiative of the Archdiocese of Hobart, St Joseph Affordable Homes delivers training and employment programs for young people.

“We’ve got 19 apprentices on at the moment, and three are female,” says Ben. “We’ve had a strong increase in females participating in Build Up Tassie, our pre-employment program. 13 of our 39 participants in 2022 have been young females, and we’re hoping that will result in a pretty reasonable increase in female apprenticeships.”

Ben says in the past, presenting trades as a career pathway for girls “hasn’t been done that well.”

“That’s why we’re really targeting that. You’ve got some good hybrid models where they can spend some time with us in that program, while still going through the education system.

“Now we’ve got a number of female apprentices, they’re very generous with their time and telling their stories when we’re promoting building and construction into the school system. We like to bring more lived experiences to young females, so they understand there’s a really important place for them in the industry.

“That’s given us momentum that will continue to snowball.”

Industry overhaul

When Ben and his team started digging into why the industry has been male-dominated, they found a need for more flexibility in the sector that would attract and benefit men and women alike.

“We looked at how we produce an environment which is able to accommodate a young family. Traditionally in the construction industry you start at seven o’clock, so school drop off and some things like that, there’s a bit of peer pressure around that if you’re female or male.

“We’re trying to promote that all employees get a better work life balance, that’s an equal approach. It is really challenging, but we have very high standards on respect and culture, male or female.”

“An absolute myth”

Ben has a strong message to employers who may hesitate to take on a female apprentice.

“Conversations around strength and the ability to do the job are just absolute rubbish in my view. We’re in an industry that really should be caring about our workforce, and looking at measures to take that physical pressure off both male and female workers.

“The young female apprentices that we’ve got have exceptionally good time management skills and they’re good practical thinkers as well, they’re good problem-solvers.

“They’re also very highly motivated to do well because I think that they haven’t been given those opportunities in the past, so we have very limited absentee rates from them, and they’re really committed to their job and training plan.

“We have an apprentice plumber through to electrician and carpenter so quite a diverse female workforce for the apprenticeships. Each of them is really doing well in their trade, really excelling in it.”

You need to listen to what the barriers are and be serious about it, don’t be tokenistic about it. Women are not a number or percentage we’re trying to build; we’re trying to build the person.
Keystone Tasmania
Keystone Tasmania is the peak organisation facilitating building and construction industry workforce development in Tasmania.
We acknowledge the palawa people as the traditional custodians of the land on which we learn and work. We honour their enduring culture and knowledges as vital to the self-determination, wellbeing and resilience of their communities.

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