Louise Azzopardi

Heavy Vehicle and Plant Mechanic

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Growing up on a farm and developing a love of working with her hands sent Louise searching for a technical apprenticeship at just 15. In joining a male dominated industry, she battled through some archaic ideology and along the way she learnt the importance of 'just being yourself' which has made her the person she is today.

Where do you currently work?

Westrac NSW/ACT (Tomago Location) as a heavy vehicle and plant mechanic apprentice trainer and Assessor

What led you to a technical trade?

I grew up on my family’s farm helping with farm labour and repairing farm equipment. I love working with my hands and seeing the outcome of my work and when I was in year 10 I realised that continuing to year 11 and 12 wasn’t for me. I knew I loved learning practically, so I started looking for an apprenticeship. I set about doing work experience at a mix of workshops in my school holidays and two of those offered me apprenticeships. I was offered a small engine (lawn mowers etc) and a heavy vehicle road transport apprenticeship with Cummins South Pacific.

I decided to take the Heavy Vehicle apprenticeship and have never looked back. I started the apprenticeship in 2012 when I was 15 and throughout the apprenticeship I pushed myself to learn and I got my trade certificate in 2016.

What challenges did you come up against in looking for an apprenticeship?

I did not face too many challenges. When I first started looking for work experience and secured my first workshop placement, my careers advisor was reluctant to give me the paperwork to apply for it as they kept saying I was too clever to do a trade. I actually had to get my Dad to ring up and get the paperwork.

I was also told that I would be too small to do a trade a fair few times, and I was also told by one employer that their workshop wasn’t ready for a female employee and that they wouldn’t want their own daughters working there.

What’s it like being a female in a male dominated industry?

I find it very rewarding as I love the work that I do, but every workshop is very different, and the people and the individual culture of a workplace definitely affects your experiences. When I started my apprenticeship I learnt quickly that you have to just be yourself. I remember doing some silly things that made me feel uncomfortable to try and fit in with the culture, however once I stopped trying to fit in and be something I wasn’t, then I started to find a supportive group of workmates and really excel.

I have had some bad experiences though. As an example of archaic thinking, I was working at one site for a few months where everyone would tell me to clean up because I was “the woman” onsite, and would then go to the point of making the workshop so messy that I would have to clean it if I wanted to work in the shed.

What opportunities has a technical trade opened up for you?

During my apprenticeship I got compete in the regional WorldSkills competition for Heavy Vehicle Mechanics. WorldSkills is a tradie competition run in about 60 categories at a regional, national and international level. The regional competition was in 2015 where I received a silver medal. In 2016 I was the first female to compete in and win the national heavy vehicle competition, and in 2017 I was the first female to compete in the international heavy vehicle competition where I placed 4th in the world.

Through this process I worked full time and completed a lot of extra training and changed jobs (still mechanical). This lead me to upping my skills and meeting a lot of new people. During the process I completed training at the Westrac Institute NSW/ACT and a few years later I went back and visited them to speak to a group of apprentices where I was casually offered a job as a trainer. I followed it up and a few weeks later I started working at the Westrac Institute and have been there for over a year now.

The trade has also given me financial independence and opportunities to go into different roles. I have been a workshop mechanic, field service mechanic, a mentor and a trainer.

Louise competing in the WorldSkills competition.

What are your goals in your trade?

At the moment, I am working on being the best trainer I can be and focused on absorbing as much trade information and skills as possible. I am also looking at building my leadership skills and hopefully I can find some management opportunities in the future.

What advice do you have for other females looking to break into a male dominated technical trade?

Do it! My apprenticeship helped me grow into the person I am today, it made me a better team player, a better problem solver and it has proven to be an amazing and rewarding step in my career. You may come across challenges, but it is 110% worth if that is what you want to do. Once you complete your apprenticeship you will not only have trade skills but depending on where you work you may also get customer service skills, team work skills and maybe even leadership skills and you can take that anywhere!

If you do something you love you never work a day in your life!

What can we do to encourage more people into technical trades?

Through my experience, students and people looking at changing career are steered towards university study and are not showed many other options. University study is for some people, but it is not for all, and unfortunately people who would succeed in trades are not given the option and tend to struggle through a system that does not work for them.  

We need to focus on removing of the stigma around trades. I have come across people who have the belief that trades are only for people who would never make it through university, which is not true! People from all levels who love to work with their hands and solve problems are fit for a trade. People also think that if you do a trade you will not make as much money as you would if you went to university, which is also untrue, as you are paid to learn and doing a trade can lead to many different career paths. 

I think if the Government encouraged more practical learning at schools it could lead to more people doing trades. They also need to better advertise the financial support they offer apprentices, so that people could see that they will be supported along the way as the starting wage is quite low at the beginning of an apprenticeship, which tends to scare people away.

Louise helping her Dad out on the farm.

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