Interview: Minority Report
Industrial: Girl Power
Unions: Made in NZ
History: Spirit for a Fair Go
Economics: Fool's Gold
Politics: Worth Fighting For
Health: The Force Behind Medibank
Legal: Robust Justice
International: After the Revolution
Poetry: The Sound of Unions
Review: Bad Santa
The Locker Room
20 Dead – Stockmarket Applauds
Karen Gives Howard a Paint Job
Go Home Alone – And Other Survival Tips
Not A Casey Fan
Labor Council of NSW
It took 35 phone calls and months of frustration for Laura Racchi to realise why her apprenticeship dream was turning into a nightmare.
She couldn't understand that potential employers seemed polite, even encouraging, until she spelled out her first name. Then, one day it dawned on her.
"They obviously thought I was a boy with a girlie voice and were prepared to give me the benefit of the doubt, but when I said my name the familiar excuses came thick and fast," she said.
It was frustrating for Racchi who had worked with her electrician father and completed two months of trade training with Electro Group, at Rhodes.
She already had a job, working with Rebel Sport where she was being promoted through the ranks, but knew retailing wasn't for her.
"We did the same thing every day, there was no feeling of achievement," she said. "I would wake up dreading doing that for the rest of my life."
It wasn't until Electro Group began hiring apprentices again, in 2001, that she got a start. For the last three years she has been learning her trade at Sydney Water depots across the city.
"I've worked on installing pumping stations and been out in the field fixing motors and responding to breakdowns, as well as working on sewerage treatment plants," Racchi says.
"Now my dad says he is the proudest dad in the world, and my mum loves it too."
The 25-year-old wants to continue training and to specialise in instrumentation and industrial electronics.
"It's great to be part of a highly skilled team solving problems together," she says "Sparkies I meet always take the time to turn around and show me what they're doing."
Birds Of A Feather
Prepare for change, fellas. Women are coming into our industry in increasing numbers.
One training body, alone, has introduced a dozen females to the delights of power in the past few years and the feedback has been so encouraging it has taken to pushing the trade at girls schools.
Norm Cahill, from Electro Group, says the new faces have got there on their merits. There are no quotas or special favours on offer.
"The girls are keen because it is something they really want to do. We don't get girls who just fall into it. They are usually in the top 10 percent of our apprentices," he said.
Half a dozen young women have completed electrical apprenticeships through Electro Group and there are another six in training.
Electro Group places apprentices with 'host employers' to give them as much exposure as possible to different areas of the industry.
It has two qualified women on its books in Canberra, while Bianca Elliott, Elizabeth Dedula, Laura Racchi and Orla Carol are pursuing their trades in Sydney.
The Sydney women had one thing in common. All four said they chose electrical work over retailing because they wanted to feel they were doing something tangible.
Dedula and Carol are helping refit the old KPMG building - rewiring switchboards, putting in down lights, and wiring test panels.
"It's a good feeling when you build something. You say to yourself 'I did that, it looks good and I did it'," Dedula explains.
"You can stand in a clothes shop and sell stuff all day, but you don't feel like you're creating anything."
Carol sees her trade as a passport to overseas travel and enjoys the 'adrenaline rush' of the work.
"It's better than sitting in front of a computer all day, you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty though," she says. "The other great thing is you don't have to get all dressed up every day."
All four are encouraged by the support they get from other women. They say there is always plenty of interest when conversations turn to jobs.
"When I tell other girls I'm an apprentice sparky it makes them aware they can do it as well. It makes me feel proud," Elliott says.
"It's fun working and interacting with people all the time, it makes sitting around in an office seem so boring."
Elliot has also been encouraged by supportive workmates but, she says, if anyone chooses to make gender an issue she goes on the offensive.
"I love all the people I've worked with," Elliot says," But if they have a go at you, you just give it right back to them straight away - you have to set the rules right from the start."
Electro Group contracts for work around the city and needs the support of customers to stay afloat. Cahill says the response to girl power has been very encouraging.
"I guess the girls that come here are pretty committed. It's a big decision for them to make," Cahill says.
"They are the sort of people who will get in and have a go. I was talking to one employer recently who was telling me about work that had to be done in a cramped, dirty space and he said the girl was the first volunteer."
And there is little question that they have been welcomed by male workmates, as well. You can't generate the sort of enthusiasm these women have for their work if you spend your life battling for acceptance.
Rachhi says she gets particular satisfaction from being part of a team that works to solve problems together.
"Sparkies I meet always take the time to turn around and show me what they are doing. It's how you learn," she says.
Women In NSW Trades
* Of the 53,024 electrical licence holders in NSW, 185 are women.
* Of 4537 apprentices studying to be sparky's 48 are women.
* Of 1006 apprentices studying to be fridgy's, four are women.
* Of 408 apprentices studying to be liney's, five are women.
* Of 140 apprentices studying to be elec fitters, two are women.
* Despite a 1978 goal the construction work force of 2000 would be one-quarter female, today's reality is 2.7 percent.
* Electro Group has trained five female sparkies. Eight are currently training.
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