It’s a man’s world when it comes to construction and building trades on the Gold Coast, but there’s a group of women who say this is the industry for them.

Italian national Giovanna Cosma left her marketing and advertising career after her partner introduced her to painting.

Now she paints high-rises for a living.

“I’ve always liked to do manual jobs,” she said.

“When I moved to Australia several years ago I struggled to find a job in my field, but at same time I wanted a bit of a change.

“I love it.”

Woman and man with bright orange and white jumper and safety gear strapped on paint high-rise from a swing stage
Giovanna Cosma (right) paints high-rises for a living from a swing stage.(ABC Gold Coast: Solua Middleton)

Ms Cosma says while she has not been exposed to sexism, she has been challenged while learning the trade.

“You have to work double to get the esteem from your male peers,” she said.

“I’ve had to put in extra effort in order to say, ‘Hey, I know I’m a woman, but I can do that’.”

The workforce

The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census results for the Gold Coast show the number of girls and women employed in the following areas of trade were:

  • Technician and trades workers at 5,442 (16.9 per cent)
  • Machine operators and drivers at 1,517 (12 per cent)
  • Labourers at 8,190 (35.4 per cent)
Trade category Women employed Men employed
Automotive and engineering trades workers 77 5,359
Construction trade workers 115 6,470
Construction and mining workers 60 3,363

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census of Population and Housing, Working Population Profile, Catalogue number 2006.0, Gold Coast (C) (LGA33430) 133.7 sq Kms, W13 OCCUPATION BY SEX

Charles Sturt lecturer of sociology Donna Bridges also identified that women made up just 1 per cent of the workforce in construction, engineering and automotive trades, and said the industry had barely budged.

In a piece for The Conversation, Ms Bridges wrote ‘Schools and other education facilities help to reinforce this gendered division on labour by sending mostly boys on school work experience programs’.

But that story is shifting at the Australian Industry Trade College (AITC) where more girls are enrolling to take up a traditionally male-dominated trade.

woman with brown hair smiles at camera
Australian Industry Trade College head of education Eliza Lane oversees the industry program.(ABC Gold Coast: Solua Middleton)

Girls training in a trade

Students at the college complete years 10–12 while undertaking training in a trade.

AITC’s head of education Eliza Lane said there had been an increase in girls choosing to pursue careers in plumbing, electrical, cabinet making, mechanical fitting and automotive and it is something she wanted to see grow.

“In some schools you are almost filtered depending on your gender,” she said.

“We don’t do that, we say: ‘What do you want to do?’

“Definitely as we’ve spread into the five campuses in the past couple of years, we’ve seen an uptake in young females coming into the schools … definitely, there’s been a swing.”

Ms Lane says she often gets feedback from employers that females perform better than males when it comes to a keen eye for detail.

Young woman with uniform and her name lauren walking into a door that says learning space with the number 6
Australian Industry Trade College student Lauren is completing year 12 and training as a cabinet maker.(ABC Gold Coast: Solua Middleton)

Year 12 student Lauren is training as a cabinet maker with Riviera Boats through the college.

Growing up with two mechanics in the family, Lauren was destined for a hands-on career.

“It’s a big leap for a woman to go into a male-dominated trade, but it’s definitely worth it,” she said.

Despite being outnumbered by the boys, she’s had no issues with her male counterparts at school and on the job.

“The guys are just my friends,” she said.

Lauren will finish this year with her QCE and a full-time position with Riviera.

“The fact that I can finish schooling with a year 12 certificate and an apprenticeship is just great, I love having that opportunity,” she said.