Illawarra trailblazers encourage wide career paths

Dr Erica Smyth and Gabbee Foodey at the Young Women in Engineering Illawarra high tea with Illawarra Engineering committee organiser Sagarika Panchadar. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Dr Erica Smyth and Gabbee Foodey at the Young Women in Engineering Illawarra high tea with Illawarra Engineering committee organiser Sagarika Panchadar. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Unconventional isn't exactly the word you would use to describe Gabbee Foodey on first appearances, but looks can be deceiving.

At 24, the Mittagong woman has already forged a successful career in a notoriously male-dominated coal industry, becoming the first woman in NSW to obtain qualifications allowing her to manage mechanical engineering at a mine.

Passing one of the state's toughest mining exams was the icing on the cake for Ms Foodey, who first dreamt of becoming a mechanic as a kid before completing a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Wollongong as a teen.

On Sunday, she spoke about her rise in the industry at a Young Women in Engineering high tea in Wollongong.

Working in her dream job at Illawarra Coal, she hoped to inspire other women to consider non-traditional career paths.

"I love being able to apply mechanical engineering to such a dynamic environment," she said.

"You're working underground, your equipment and environment constantly change, so you have to overcome lots of different challenges you wouldn't necessarily think would occur.

"By talking passionately about my role, I'd hope to maybe encourage more girls to choose non-traditional career paths."

Ms Foodey spoke alongside Dr Erica Smyth, who has worked in male-dominated industries such as the resources sector for 40 years.

Dr Smyth said women these days were lucky to have more opportunities to work outside of traditionally female roles.

"It's fantastic to see that women can pursue whatever it is they really want to do and they're getting the educational opportunity to follow their own passions," she said.

"It shouldn't be our gender that determines what we do; when I left school you went into training as a secretary, a nurse or a teacher and that was it."

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