When Helen Yost left school, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She ran a personal training business briefly before marrying, having children–two daughters–and leaving the workforce for a spell.
When she returned to work, she wanted something more financially stable, so she got a job doing office admin for a plumbing firm. But it wasn’t long before she got itchy feet.
“I couldn’t handle being in front of a computer all day every day,” says Helen, now 29. “So I asked my boss at the time if I could go on site. Once I was there I saw what the guys were doing and thought, ’That’s exactly what I want to be doing!’ I started harassing him to get an apprenticeship, but I got told ‘no’ to start with. Because ‘girls don’t plumb’.”
Helen wasn’t about to be told what she could and couldn’t do, and she’s now the owner-operator of Brisbane-based firm the Tradettes, which she started in 2013. Here’s how she’s built her dream career over the past seven years in spite of some gender-based hurdles.
Don’t take no for an answer
“When I first asked for my apprenticeship, it never occurred to me that females weren’t widely accepted in trades. I was left with the option of accepting that and settling back into my office job or pursuing plumbing and getting the career I really wanted. So I pursued it harder.”
Looking out for future generations
“I was a single mum at the time and I was caring for my two daughters. I thought that if I didn’t do something now, maybe my girls wouldn’t get the chance to do something when they reach my age. Being a mum made me realise that if I didn’t pursue it, then following generations would suffer the same inequality. Eventually, I got my apprenticeship.”
“Nothing beats a dirty day on site! I love the diversity of plumbing. There’s no day that’s the same’’.
Bridging the gap
“Throughout my apprenticeship I realised there was a huge gap in the industry that needed to be filled. There needed to be options for girls to come into trades and not be met with resistance all the time. That was the backbone, the foundation, for me starting Tradettes. My experiences getting an apprenticeship, and the resistance I experienced, added fuel to the fire and made me want to give an opportunity to women who might otherwise be denied.”
Old habits die…eventually
“There’s definitely been a shift in attitudes towards females in trades. Even though I’m one of the founders of Tradettes, I still get a reserved attitude from guys on site sometimes. It is changing, but it’s one of those things that is going to be gradual. We can’t click our fingers and expect it to happen overnight. We’re creating the awareness that females can do it, so society can adjust their attitude instead of the gender norm being that it’s only men who can be plumbers.”
The best job in the world
“Nothing beats a dirty day on site! I love the diversity of plumbing. There’s no day that’s the same. Whether it’s maintenance or construction, there’s always a new challenge. That’s the biggest thing that myself and my team love. I can’t encourage enough girls into the trades fast enough! It is changing, but if I could have it my way I’d have it changed faster.”
Support is essential
“When I started my apprenticeship, I wasn’t aware of all the support networks, like NAWIC (The National Association of Women in Construction). If I was, I would’ve made the most of their services and their support. They have an amazing mentor program. I can’t recommend groups like NAWIC highly enough. Just get the support you need. It doesn’t matter if you’re going through gender discrimination or just had a tough day on site, there will be times when having a support network is going to make the difference between a happy time and a bad time.
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