Alisha's story

Alisha works as an apprentice plumber on the Fort Street Public School upgrade. She was a chef for over a decade before switching to a career in construction. We asked Alisha questions about her pathway into the construction industry and experiences working on site.

Alisha at work on a commercial site.

As part of my apprenticeship, I studied for 2.5 years for my Certificate III in Plumbing. I spent 1 day a week at TAFE NSW and worked the other 4 days on-site with my employer.

I’m in the fourth and final year of my apprenticeship, completing my hours on the job. I’m studying again, this time 2 nights a week over 2 years for my Certificate IV in Plumbing and Services, which I need for licensing with NSW Fair Trading.

Whether you are in class or on-site, every day (or night) of the working week, apprentices are learning new skills. 

To learn more about training and education opportunities, visit TAFE NSW.

I wanted to learn another trade and work in a different industry. I’d been a chef for over a decade and wanted a career change.

After chatting with my tradie mates, I decided to put my knives down. Having already been a chef, I wanted something even more practical.

For me, it was a choice between becoming a sparkie (electrician) or a plumber. I picked plumbing, and it completely fits me to a tee! 

We work off the designer’s plans to create a new build or bring to life an old one, or a combination of the two. It’s fantastic to be a part of the process, and seeing the final product is so rewarding!

It’s hard to top my current job at the Fort Street Public School upgrade at Millers Point, where I’m working on new and refurbished builds. What could be better than having the Harbour Bridge in the background while working on one of Australia’s oldest public schools?

Tell us about your current job?

I’m enjoying the hands-on work and the diversity of projects. Right now, I’m working on a school, and before that I worked on an office, a football stadium and a hospital.

What does a typical day look like?

My start time is generally 7am, sometimes earlier, depending on the site I’m on. We have a 45-minute break at 11am and our day finishes at 3pm. 

Each day kicks off with a pre-start meeting, where we go through the safety aspects we need to know and be reminded about for the project we’re working on. Then our foreperson will tell us what our job or task is for the day, or the week if it’s a big job like a plant room, rough-in in a whole bathroom area or some drainage. 

Once pre-start is over, we head on out, grab our tools from our toolbox, go to our location and start working. 

With my leading hand, I'm working in a crawl space underneath a floor. We’re using PVC pipe and clips and have our tools and lights. We're onto a new one as soon as this job is done. 

What sort of work do you do?

It depends on the job we are working on and varies daily. I've been doing a lot of drainage work using PVC piping. I’m doing a bit of rough-in on kitchens, toilets and bathrooms. Rough-in is the construction stage where, after the framing is up, we lay out the lines in readiness for final connections after completing other steps.

Most challenging part of your job?

At times, women in the construction trades can be underestimated. We are capable and deserve to be there, helping break down those stereotypical walls.

Working in the trades can be quite physically demanding and rewarding at the same time. You have to know your limits and when to ask for help. Everyone needs a bit of help from time to time. 

Getting out of bed and onto the site early in the morning can be difficult, especially in winter when it’s wet and windy. My remedy is a hot coffee to help to warm up and get going.

What’s your favourite plumbing tool?

Probably a recipro saw! These battery-powered, hand-held reciprocating saws use a back-and-forth motion like a wood saw. They cut through everything so quickly. Some older plumbers will call you a lazy plumber because you need to use your hands more. So, I only used it once I could cut a correctly angled PVC part with a regular saw. They are a fantastic tool!

"As a construction plumber, you must remember that everything is connected. It’s not just about the task you are focussing on. Remembering deadlines and being aware of the bigger picture is essential."

How did you get to where you are now?

I am where I am because I followed what I wanted to do in life. I made my own decisions.

When making my career decisions, I research the available job options, figure out which ones best fit my personality type, and look at the training and skills I’ll need to get the work I want.

Fortunately, I enjoy maths, and that’s something that helps in taking on a plumbing apprenticeship.

Who supported you in your decision-making?

My friends, family and wife all stood by me in deciding to make a career change from hospitality to plumbing. Their belief and support are incredible. I’m nearly at the end of my apprenticeship, with only a few more months until I finish!

What personal skills and attributes do you need for plumbing?

Being able to wake up, jump out of bed, and get on-site early is a good attribute!

As a construction plumber, you must remember that everything is connected. It’s not just about the task you are focussing on. Remembering deadlines and being aware of the bigger picture is essential.

You need to work well in your team and with all the trades that come on-site. When our timelines collide with other trades, and we all have jobs to do in the same small space simultaneously, it helps us to work as one big team and know how to negotiate.

Do you have a workplace mentor or champion?

In the first year of my apprenticeship, I met my informal mentors. I’d worked with them previously, and to this day, I ring them up for advice, especially if I feel unsure about something.  They are a great help, and catching up is always good.

3 things that make a construction company attractive

  1. Great construction companies offer lots of different jobs and exciting projects in a wide range of places. The sites I’ve been on have been fantastic, and the teams I’ve worked with have been great. I’ve always felt I can reach out to people.
  2. Remuneration and pay are essential. However, so are the professional development opportunities for people who want to specialise in their trade or advance the career ladder.
  3. There are many accessible career paths in plumbing and the wider construction industry. The skills you build as a plumber are transferable to many other fields of work. You could move into sprinkler fitting, for instance. Or you can head off into the office if you no longer want to be completely hands-on.

Advice to other women interested in working in the trades?

You must believe in yourself. You’ll add value if you choose to work in construction.
I’d suggest reaching out directly to people in the trades to get advice about the industry and their jobs.

There are more and more women in construction. We’re becoming more common. So, search for us and reach out. There are plenty of people who can help you find your way into and around the industry.

TAFE NSW has short entry-level courses, as do other training providers. Read all you can online about the courses and where they can lead you. Then speak with a representative for the extra information you need.

Why is the construction industry the one to be in?

It’s a versatile industry that offers terrific opportunities, especially for women with so much to give. Diversity in the workplace and different perspectives in the industry are valued. 

There’s support out there for women in construction. There are forums, meetings and specially tailored programs you can access.

New technologies and equipment help. For example, we use safety apps for fire ratings and to isolate sections of the buildings, and there’s a range of heavy lifting equipment. 

Plumbers can be found in every construction sector, and you can pursue many different fields of work. 

To help others make their career decisions, what would you say?

Focus on the kind of work, jobs and training you’re passionate about, not things someone else has said you should do! You have to do the work, and surely you want to enjoy what you do. So choose a career pathway that you love!

Test your career decisions. Have a crack and give them a test run. Chat with someone you trust. It helps to talk because the reason it’s not gelling could be a momentary thing. Or it may be time to try a related pathway or decide to do something entirely different. 

In the construction industry, there are so many options and opportunities. 

What’s next careerwise? And, in the longer term?

My priority right now is to complete my Certificate IV in Plumbing and Services. I’ve got 5 months to go until I finish my apprenticeship. 

Later, and when I’m feeling comfortable with what I’m doing, I may look at studying a project management course as a lead to becoming a project manager or deciding to go out on my own.

Which qualifications or courses are you thinking of taking up next?

Once I’ve ticked off my current studies, I might look at what’s available in project management or something similar.

Are there any other construction trades you’d like to try?

I want to perfect my skills and grow my career in plumbing first.

I could become a carpenter, but that's not something I can see happening in the foreseeable future. How many people become triple-trade qualified? I’d have to do a third apprenticeship!

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