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Karen (Kaz) Watson was in a rut. She’d been working as an aquaculture research technician for over a decade, and before that had dabbled in oyster hatcheries and agricultural science. She’d done a TAFE course in welding, and was chatting to a friend at a party about her casual work with a blacksmith – a conversation that was overheard by Penny Haley, owner of Valley Workshop…

Strong sense of values

Kaz says her values include a love of creating, and the sense of responsibility and pride that comes from doing a task well. She loves how varied carpentry work is, the options such a broad skill set opens up, and the ability to connect with place.

“One of the reasons I live in Tasmania is the beautiful places, and when I get to work on people’s homes, I actually get to experience more of the place in a different way.”

Kaz says all the apprentices on her site are a bit older, with the motivation of knowing a career in carpentry is what they really want. “They do say about mature age apprentices that we do like to get stuck in and get it done and dusted, we don’t muck around! And I feel very much that way.”

Her life experience and time spent helping her builder father also means she brings additional skills to the worksite, such as first aid training, logistics, communication and plain common sense. “I do have a lot of practical skills,” Kaz says. “I also have the willingness to be really attentive to detail.”

A rite of passage

Kaz would love to see a career path in the construction industry become the norm for women, just as it is for men. “It’s still not a rite of passage for women but I can see it’s a lot more accepted. There are more women getting into it, but it’s going to take time before that’s become normalised.”

She says having Penny as her boss was a big attraction for getting into the industry. “It’s a confidence-building thing. If you can see someone else who’s a woman, who’s been able to absolutely be successful in the industry, it gives me the confidence to be part of it!”

Kaz says the more women she tells about her mid-career change, the more say they wish they’d done the same. “If only they could see that they do have that option and they can give it a go. And the more women get into it, the better it is for all the women.”

“In an apprenticeship they’re paying me to retrain, I’m learning a great skill and that time will pass quickly, so why not give it a go?”

I’d been through a mentoring program, and I noticed all the skills and what you get out of a carpentry job were really closely aligned to my values. I was happy to take the leap.
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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