August 26, 2020

Shaping the future and creating gender balance in trades

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Pat Tierney is a strong advocate for women, saying, “It just makes sense. If you have a workforce with the same people, background and experiences then they’re all going to tackle problems from the same perspective. People with varied backgrounds might tackle a problem from ten different directions. “I’ve been in the property industry for over 20 years, starting as a plumber and gas-fitter and eventually putting down the tools to enter management.”

As the National Training Services Manager at Programmed, he strives to maintain an equitable gender balance within their trainees and apprentices. They’re recruiting for National Energy Technician Training Scheme (NETTS) Apprentices right now (applications close 4th September) and they have a 50% target for women.

What being an apprentice is all about

When I asked Pat about the ‘highs’ of being a NETTS Apprentice, his face lit up.

“You work on some fantastic equipment, real cutting-edge technology. These plants are billions of dollars of shiny, new equipment. We pay well above average for apprentices and once they’re qualified the pay is really good. Plus, their rosters and shift patterns give them a lot of time off.”

The NETTS program is a collaboration between Programmed and major oil and gas organizations, specifically designed as an entry pathway into the sector. It creates a level playing field for applicants from all backgrounds and ensures we are growing a diverse workforce.

Programmed’s NETTS apprentices are based at remote locations with FIFO rosters and work about 22 weeks per year from their 2nd year. Pat recently caught up with a man who’d finished his apprenticeship in January; “He’d just bought himself a new jet ski with his overtime pay, and was camping and fishing with friends in his time off, so he has a great balance of lifestyle.”

At Programmed, they really focus on growing the person alongside building professional skills.

“It really is such a great career pathway. A lot of our programs are about developing them as people as well as giving them their technical skills. There’s a focus on life skills; how to communicate effectively, resolve conflict, increase resilience. We’re developing the leaders of the future.”

To someone considering a NETTS Apprenticeship with Programmed, Pat’s words of wisdom are;
  • Consider the opportunities: “The career opportunities it offers you are huge, absolutely amazing.”
  • Work with the best: “We work with big organizations – Shell, Santos ConocoPhillips, BHP Petroleum, Woodside. They’re large organizations who share our ethos. We develop people and build them up, so we’re going to be better off in the long run.”
  • Gain early experience: “Apprentices are relatively young when they’re going through. By 22 they’re qualified and competent, and by their late 20’s they have a wealth of knowledge and experience and can transition to an office based or leadership role.”
  • Take advantage of the options: “It used to be seen as a ‘lesser’ career pathway, but it’s actually a great pathway from a career, financial and flexibility point of view.”

Pat chuckles, “I’d put money on 3 of the people in the current group being in senior leadership by their 30’s. They might be my boss one day, who knows!”

A photo of three people dancing in front of a lit-up sign saying NETTS

How to succeed as an apprentice

Programmed are recruiting all over Australia right now and have a 50% target for women across the NETTS program. Last year more than 50% of the applicants that got the final stages were female, an increase from 4% women applications when they first started the apprenticeship program!

“We wanted to increase the diversity of the workforce. Traditionally speaking it’s men that go to these roles so we had to think of a different approach.”

Programmed started targeting high schools, taking apprentices with them to speak.

“Often the first time we go to a school there will be 15-20 boys and only 1 or 2 girls, and having a woman speaking can make it really engaging. It’s even better if they know the girl because she went to the same school.”

Pat reflects on the people who succeed in Programmed’s apprenticeship and shares;
  • Be Motivated: “If I get the right motivation and attitude, then I can teach anyone the skills.”
  • Have passion: “They need a genuine passion for the industry and want to see a career pathway. One of the girls we hired recently used to work on Go Karts with her dad, and you could just see her passion.”
  • Be enthusiastic: “That enthusiasm comes through when you see someone who loves what they’re doing.”
  • Show resilience: “It’s not for everyone flying into the ocean and living on a rig for 3 weeks at a time.”

Pat is passionate about his role in shaping the future of the industry and takes the pastoral care side of his role very seriously.

“We’ve got young people coming through and they are going to be the future, so we need to be thinking about them now. It’s important we keep training and developing people.”

“The life skills component isn’t common in an apprenticeship. Once you support people and give them the trust, you see them blossom. I love to see the fourth years; they’re full of confidence, they’ve got the skills now and they’re ready to go out and tackle the world!”

A photo of two women and one man smiling at each other, wearing high-vis uniforms

Why gender balance is important

“If you’ve got a diverse workforce you’re going to have lots of inputs and ideas, and the solution will be better. Programmed have always been a big advocate for diversity in the workforce. Our office has a very good mix of males and females in all roles and all levels.”

Anecdotally, Pat noticed a difference in the classroom when he was teaching trade at TAFE years ago.

“I’d always find that if we had a few girls in the class it changed the whole dynamic. In our classrooms now, because we have that mix there is a much more mature dynamic.”

Pat does admit that some of Programmed’s partners can initially be resistant to bringing women into the workforce. But once they’re in;

“They are our best advocates. Working with these girls and going on site with them you see they excel. We also run onsite mentoring programs for supervisors and talk about the differences between the way apprenticeships are run now and how they would have been run when they completed it. The underlying theme is there’s a wealth of new experience you can tap into here.”

For the young women, Pat says, “They can be the only woman on the whole site. We prepare the girls for that and ensure there are appropriate change rooms. Overwhelmingly the feedback is that the girls are great, and they wonder why they haven’t had them before!”

Pat also says that, “Women are more gentle on equipment. In the mining industry we hear all the time that the big truck drivers that are women can save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through less wear on tires and brakes. We also get feedback that their attention to detail is better.”

“The thing I notice all the time is the change in dynamics in a workplace. It’s not any one factor, but it’s a more mature environment when you have a healthy balance.”

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About the Author
WORK180 promotes organizational standards that raise the bar for women in the workplace. We only endorse employers that are committed to making real progress so that all women can expect better.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job. Check out the latest job vacancies with Programmed