Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are breaking new ground in the construction industry
The construction industry has the third highest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment rate, but with only 10% of those being women.
Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES) sees this as an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and is leading the way in changing this narrative.
100 Aboriginal women have been trained by AES in the last 12 months in the construction industry through AES’s intensive pre-employment programs such as iCivil, iTradies and iTraffic. 75 of these women have secured full-time careers in the construction industry, while the other 20 have secured casual employment on major project sites around Sydney.
Two Wiradjuri sisters Tara Roberts and Tarni Proberts-Roberts are examples of the AES traineeship success. Born and raised in Camden, and now residing in Sydney, both women held full-time positions in the childcare industry for over six years before taking the leap into the construction industry.
Tara was 28 years old when she decided to change her career direction.
“I felt that I had reached my limit with childcare and not enjoying my time there as much. I wanted something to challenge myself with and learn new things,” she says.
Following in her sister’s steps, at 25 years of age Tarni enrolled in the iTradie Program through AES.
“I needed a change in career, to challenge myself and grow new skills. After seeing how well my sister was doing within her career in civil construction, it really motivated me to take a chance and start a new journey,” she says.
Tara graduated with a Trainee of the Year nomination in her region and state. She also received the Trainee of the Year runner-up for the country.
“Being recognised as doing well in my career and studies helped cement the fact I’ve made a good choice in my career change,” she says.
Tara was able to complete a Certificate 3 in Civil Construction and is now a Dogger (directing and advising crane operators) and labourer working on the new M5 in St Peters, Sydney.
Tarni’s hard work and self-determination also paid off in making her dreams a reality. After completing her Certificate 1 in Construction through AES iTradie program Tarni applied for a position at Lendlease Crown Resorts, Barangaroo as a procurement advisor. Tarni’s interview was successful and she became the first AES Trainee to be employed by Lendlease directly. This achievement was followed by Tarni receiving the first Les Tobler Program Excellence Award at the 2018 AES graduation.
“I am loving my new role as my day is split between different tasks, I feel like things are always different. I work with an amazing team, which I am extremely grateful for. I feel like times are changing and it’s becoming a women’s world. I am excited to see what is in store for the future of women in construction. I see how quickly and widely it’s spreading and I would love to see more women become involved,” she says.
Tarni advises other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to follow in her footsteps.
“The amount of new skills and information you’ll receive is never ending. This is not just for men anymore; whether you’re wanting an office job, driving trucks, cleaning staff rooms, operating heavy machinery, being a surveyor, health and safety rep or traffic controller/gatekeeper, it’s waiting for you. All you have to do is take a leap of faith outside your comfort zone,” she says.
AES chief executive Kristy Masella has worked in Aboriginal Affairs for more than 30 years across many portfolios in New South Wales, Queensland, and the Northern Territory.
“Tara Roberts and Tarni Probert-Roberts are both exceptional role models for women and proving you can do anything with self-determination, commitment and their achievements are well deserved. I’m excited about breaking into other male-dominated industries, and carving out new career opportunities for women. Lady tradies are just the beginning,” she says.