At 16, Shelby Byrnes has her eyes set on completing a plant mechanical apprenticeship to repair and maintain heavy machinery and she's a part of a group of female Illawarra students interested in joining a trade.
The Year 10 student from Dapto High School recently completed the Women in Trades program hosted by her school. It gave her an opportunity to meet women in the plant mechanic industry and complete a week of work experience.
"I really enjoyed it ... you're always building different things and you get to learn a lot about how things work," Shelby said.
"It's good to have a program dedicated to women so we get a chance to get a job in the field instead of them looking at males straight away and we get opportunities to get those jobs as well."
The free program is for female students in years 9 to 12 who are seeking an apprenticeship in mechanics, electronics and other non-traditional trades.
The Women in Trades program has run for six years and is funded by the Trade Pathways Program- Training Service NSW.
Women make up two per cent of qualified trade workers, according to the NSW Trades Pathways Program.
In a recent presentation to Dapto, Warilla, Warrawong and Corrimal high schools, they had 80 students show interest in the 2024 program.
When Corrimal High School student Avalon Mooney was asked by a teacher if she'd be interested in signing up, she said "Hell yeah, this sounds cool!".
The year 10 student never expected to be interested in a trade until her older sister started working as a fitter with BHP, a mining and metals company.
"She's had so many great opportunities because of it and she's been able to travel ... I just thought 'Wow! Maybe that's something I've never considered before, maybe I could do something like that!'," Avalon said.
She hopes that by taking part in the 2024 program she can figure out which trade she would like to pursue.
"I've never had much exposure to trades which I think is why programs like this are important because they give you a taste," she said.
When Warrawong High School student Indiana Whitley thought about her future she said she knew wanted a hands-on job.
"My mum wanted to be a mechanic and I have a lot in common with my mum and so I thought I'll look into it," she said.
Her mother had always wanted to be a motor mechanic but was never given an opportunity, Indiana said. It prompted her to sign up for the Women In Trades program.
The program includes three full-day workshops, excursions and an optional week of work experience.
Former students who are now apprentices have helped adapt the program to ensure it stays relevant.
The apprentices also work with the current students as mentors and provide them with advice for when they enter the industry.
The program coordinator and Dapto school teacher Peter Johnson said it's based on the principle of "you can't be what you can't see".
"These young female apprentices work as mentors to the female participants, utilising small group discussions, answering participants' questions and giving strategies and advice based on their own experiences - it is a potent strategy for providing a personalised pathway for the participants!" Mr Johnson said.
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