Christchurch women taking on rebuild jobs

Date: 11th September 2014

Christchurch cathedral rebuild

The Christchurch rebuild is drawing women into formerly male-dominated trade-based jobs.  Christchurch’s central city is alive with construction, as damaged buildings come down and new structures go up.  With more than 1000km of roads needing repair and 250km of water mains to be laid, more women are putting their hands for the work.

One such woman is Joy Lalahi, single mum to two young boys who is completing an electrical apprenticeship.  She said she had been interested in trades from a young age.

“My dad allowed us four kids to help them build our house in Tonga, which was fun, and those sort of skills – being able to swing a hammer, being able to plumb – that’s come in handy but electrical is something you need to know what you’re doing before you go any where near it.”

But she sometimes felt the need to prove herself more than some of the men due to the perception of some people.  “They go ‘ah, must be no other choice’ because most girls, myself included, like to go out, get dressed up and look nice. To be able to take care of yourself, there’s no barriers, you can do whatever you want,” she said.

Unemployment the driver

Anita Goldwater, who is 26, has just finished a certificate in pre-trade training for painting and decorating and said unemployment made her consider the line of work.

“Not having any financial income coming in to look after my daughter or myself. I was struggling and I saw the billboard and I thought ‘why not’ … there’s going to be a lot of opportunities out there.”

Ms Goldwater said she was surprised on her first day when there was 15 women and only five men in the class.

“A lot of us, I guess, have been stay-at-home mums at some point and to be stuck at home in a house that’s broken would be a tough run,” she said.  “I wouldn’t want to be at home while my house was broken so I think if females can feel like they can get somewhere and fix something, or sort something and make this city better, then they’re probably getting out and doing that.”

Research undertaken by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs last year showed most interviewees believed advertising for rebuild-related jobs was directed at men.  More than half of the 500 interviewed said were not sure they could meet the physical demands of rebuild jobs.

Responding to changes

The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team has 1500 workers, 10 percent of whom are women in trade roles.  General manager Duncan Gibb said the industry was responding to the changes.

“The industry is recognising the benefits that women provide and are using them” said Mr Gibb.

The number of women in trade jobs was increasing and Mr Gibb said he believed that was due to the opportunities the rebuild had created.

The Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology said the number of women training in trades had doubled from 5 percent in 2011 to 11 percent this year.

View original article on Radio NZ website.

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