Female Jerilderie Carpenter Wins Big and Changes Industry Norms


Posted on 14/09/17 in

Helene Mortlock always wanted to do an apprenticeship when she was in her teens; sadly it was her gender that held her back. “Apprenticeships were not particularly well-humoured because I was a girl… so I was encouraged to study architecture at university,” says Helene.

Now, some twenty years later, Helene finds herself winning the Special Award for Women in a Non-Traditional Trade at the completion of her Certificate III in Carpentry at the NSW Training Awards, late last week. Helene, whom was the only female in her Carpentry class, simultaneously completed a Certificate IV in Building and Construction, and took to challenging her teachers for sustainable alternatives, landing her the award.

Helene was offered her apprenticeship by her father’s well-respected company, Paul Ryan Building Contractors, in their hometown of Jerilderie, NSW. The late uptake of the trade saw a ‘treechange’ from Helene and her husband’s metropolitan and corporate life in Melbourne, to reskilling and working in a career she says “Fits like a glove… and is second nature” to her.

While typical trade based gender struggles are not affecting her so much in this chapter of life—being older and wiser—she can imagine “For someone who is 18 perhaps things would not wash off so easily. Plus I work for my dad who is a gentleman, with over 60 years’ experience and known by everyone in town.” This has allowed Helene to somewhat escape the more common pressures felt by the less than two per cent of females working in her trade in NSW.

Helene has been made to feel aware of her gender at more junctures than just delaying the entire process to begin with, “I have worked on sites where I have been one of only three women amongst 1000 men. I have to say though, generally, my experience has been pretty good thanks to the work culture set by my employers. It’s sad to think there are still negative tones running through the construction industry at large though.

“However, I think change is afoot particularly with the help of organisations like Apprenticeship Support Australia and SALT (Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen). Apprenticeship Support Australia annually sponsors the award I won and are the Network Provider I’m signed with; these organisations will be instrumental in getting more women into positions and supporting them so they can achieve while they are in trades,” says Helene.

Sue-Anne Brady, Regional Manager for Apprenticeship Support Australia says “The successes of women like Helene Mortlock are the stories we need to get out there and make common place. Letting all women see that it’s never too late to do what interests you. Promoting Helene’s success will also help expose women to apprenticeship and employment options they may never have considered because they blatantly or subconsciously view them as being dominated by men.

For Helene at the end of the day it’s not the award she finds important but the work, “Simply being able to provide services to my local town and encouraging other women, regardless of age, to give whatever career they want a go” she says.

Got a question? Call our hotline

1300 363 831

Talk to us.

We are the people to talk to about getting the maximum benefit out of employing or becoming an apprentice or trainee.