If you want to gain on-the-job skills, have a career with a significant salary, and avoid spending years at university, a trade role would be ideal for you.
Michelle Mullins has ‘been there, done that’ and offers some useful insights.
“School and university are big on tests – so I knew university wasn’t the right path for me. I knew that I liked to keep busy, so a trade role was a great option for me. Trust how you feel. You don’t need to rush!”
Michelle is an Electrical Supervisor for Alcoa. She’s been with the company for more than nine years – during which she’s taken two periods of maternity leave.
“I supervise electricians and apprentices in three different areas of our Wagerup Alumina Refinery. My role is to execute planned and unplanned work, assign work crews, and run through safety alerts and daily issues. I also schedule our six-week plans, organize contractors, and order the parts required to execute our work.”
Here are Michelle’s insights for succeeding in a trade.
Get exposure to trade roles
Knowing a tradesperson may have sparked your interest! At least, it did for Michelle.
Interestingly, Michelle’s Dad worked at Alcoa throughout her childhood.
“He’s been working at Pinjarra Alumina Refinery for 42 years in September! I’ve always had a great impression of the company because he was around so much for us as kids – Alcoa played a big role in that. When we’d pick him up from work, we’d get a glimpse of the site too and I was always fascinated by it.”
Find out what the trade involves
Michelle completed a pre-apprenticeship to see if she’d enjoy being an electrician. As it turned out, she loved it!
“I secured an apprenticeship at Alcoa’s Pinjarra Alumina Refinery. There, I completed my four-year dual trade apprenticeship. After spending some time traveling, I then received a role at Alcoa’s Wagerup Refinery. There I started as an Electrical Instrumentation Technician within a small team. I learned so much about my trade during that time.”
In 2019, Michelle went on maternity leave to have her first child.
“Towards the end of my time off, my supervisor encouraged me to apply for a secondment as a Shift Electrical Supervisor. I was in this role for a few months and was due to go on parental leave for the second time when the company offered me a full-time role. They did not need to do this just before I was leaving for another 12 months parental leave, but they did!”
After having her second daughter, Michelle has now been back at Alcoa for almost a year.
Alcoa offers parental support, pay equity, and flexible work arrangements.
How do you know if a role is right for you?
“Starting a family can be a scary and exciting experience. I was happy working on the tools and didn’t feel ready to take the next step in my career — life was busy enough. But I learnt of an opportunity and thought ‘why not’, and it turned out to be a great decision.”
Michelle loves that her role has an impact; she acts as the centre point to enable crews to complete their work and she communicates with management.
“I’m proud I completed an apprenticeship. Being young and in a new environment can make it hard to grow, because you can be so focused on avoiding making mistakes. But making mistakes can be one of the best ways to learn. It got me to a place where I’m proud to be now.”
As Michelle shares, the most important thing is enjoying your work.
“I’ve always enjoyed coming to work! It’s important to love your job and feel supported. Now that I have children, I know I can be there for them, and balancing work is important.”
What challenges can you expect along the way?
Like Michelle, you may encounter challenges in your role, working with others, or from outside perspectives.
“There are a lot of different personalities at Alcoa! It takes patience to cater to everyone. When I first joined we had a small crew, but we’ve expanded. So, getting to know how different people work has been an eye-opener. I try to ensure everyone feels heard and that they matter. It’s so important to me (and Alcoa) for everyone to feel valued and then to be able to do their job well.”
For Michelle, working with supportive, knowledgeable leaders and hardworking crew members is what makes her job most enjoyable.
“A final challenge worth mentioning is when people on the outside see me as just a partner and mother but are surprised when I tell them about my role.”
But her best days at work make all these challenges worthwhile.
“There are days when you receive a good handover from the night shift, when all job packs are completed, and the crew stays safe and motivated throughout the day – so they return to their families happy and safe. It’s a great feeling when I’m able to complete my day’s to-do list and I go home to spend time with my family.”
Her final advice for women considering a trade?
“Have a good attitude, strong work ethic and enjoy what you do. The rewards will come.”