When Jade Chittick-O'Hara left high school she began working as a "retail assistant slash manager" at an op shop in the Illawarra.
Retail and clothing was not her passion, but like many her age without a clear idea of what she wanted to do after school, took on the entry level position.
"I never really liked retail, but it's just what everyone goes to after high school," she said.
Ms Chittick-O'Hara then had to have surgery on her feet and lost her job due to the delay it took to have the operation.
For many women in the Illawarra, this story of moving in and out of the workforce is not uncommon.
According to the 2021 Census, in the Illawarra women over the age of 25 were more likely to be unengaged or partially engaged in work or education than men, while men were much more likely to be fully engaged.
While fewer young women - between 15 and 24 - were at least partially engaged or not engaged in employment or training than men, after 25 the difference flipped.
Women in the Illawarra dropped out of full-time employment or education faster than their counterparts Australia wide, and the gap between the fully engaged women and men was greater in the Illawarra than across Australia.
Some of this difference could be attributable to women taking time out of the workforce for childbirth, but was also driven by the stigma against women working in male-dominated trades, as Cherylee Maybury, careers development and program consultant at MAS National points out.
Ms Maybury launched the first iteration of the Connecting Women to Trades Program earlier this year, and has seen uptake from women interested in a variety of trades but were unaware or unable to access the pathway into a role in the sectors.
"There's a huge focus on clean energy apprenticeships at the moment, so we're opening up our minds, what's out there, what's available, what are the careers."
The eight week program is available to women above the age of 16 who are not currently in work and traverses the breadth of the vocational education sector, from traditional blue collar trades to in-demand roles in the care economy.
Ms Chittick-O'Hara who is a participant in the first iteration of the program, began with an interest in aged care, having cared for her grandmother, but most recently during a visit to the construction training room at Illawarra iTEC found a natural affinity with a drop saw.
"At school they don't really talk about pathways, they just assumed you'd figure it out."
In addition to providing career pathways, Ms Maybury explained the program provides information on workplace rights and career coaching while also ensuring employers are ready to take on a more diverse workforce.
"We deliver to employers an education piece on diversity, equity, inclusion and psychological safety," she said.
The program has also recently begun in Nowra, and plans to continue to expand.