Illawarra TAFE teacher nominated for award

An Illawarra TAFE trades teacher who uses her long service leave to travel the state teaching girls how to use power tools has been nominated for the Premier's Woman of the Year award.

Fiona Shewring has been a painting and decorating teacher at TAFE's Wollongong campus since 2000.

Her nomination recognises the work she does in her down time with the Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen (SALT) not-for-profit network, which provides networking opportunities and workshops to women entering or already working in the trades.

The 55-year-old grandmother of six founded SALT in 2009 in a bid to correct a stark gender imbalance in the trades, where women make up about 1.7 per cent of the workforce, on average.

"This is a skills shortage area, and if you're only recruiting from half of the population you're only getting half what you could potentially be using," Mrs Shewring said.

SALT's workshops teach women trade basics and are intended to counter the view that "women don't do this kind of work".

Mrs Shewring said many women lacked confidence in the field, as they hadn't been exposed to it from a young age.

Of the women who did take up a trade, many did so later in life, some with university degrees or an unrelated career behind them, Mrs Shewring said.

They struggled to get apprenticeships, not because of any real barrier but due to "society's perceptions".

On a recent trip with SALT, Mrs Shewring travelled to a preschool in Dorrigo, about 60 kilometres west of Coffs Harbour, where the boys weren't letting the girls play with their dump trucks.

The girls were given miniature hammers and screwdrivers and taught how to use them by female tradies.

"These things filter through," Mrs Shewring said.

In other workshops, SALT has worked with grandmothers, mindful of the power they hold in their families to help chart the career courses of their granddaughters.

Mrs Shewring was born in Melbourne, lived overseas, then returned to Australia as a mother of five, settling in the outskirts of Sydney. She followed her husband into the painting and decorating business before she became a teacher.

Mrs Shewring said she was honoured to be nominated alongside three other finalists, "extraordinary women in their own right". They are: burns survivor Turia Pitt, who was seriously injured in a raging grass fire during the 2011 Kimberley Ultramarathon; NSW Farmers' Association head Fiona Simson; and Tongan-Australian netballer Mo'onia Gerrard.

The Premier's Awards will be presented on Friday at Parliament House in Sydney.

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