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Sydney women's shed encourages ladies to pick up tools, pursue trades

Tradie ladies
Sonia Morgenweck watches Indy Mair use the power tools like a pro.

ABC News: Antonette Collins

At Quakers Hill in Sydney's west, 10-year-old Indy Mair is getting the chance to hone her skills as a future electrician.

She is one of the first to use the drop saw and drills at the new SkillWomen shed — a place where women and girls can gain hands on experience with power tools.

"It makes me feel really happy that women can have a try at anything they want to do — like being an electrician like my mum," she said.

It is an ambition that few women aspire to, with just two per cent of women in the building workforce. Spotting a female tradie on site is a rare occurrence.

Indy's mother Rebecca Mair said when she started out in her apprenticeship, there were few role models.

After joining up with SALT (Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen), the not-for-profit organisation behind the shed, Ms Mair said she is thrilled that there is now a space where her daughter can feel supported in her career goals.

"I wanted to show her that she could do anything that she wanted to do and show her that I'm not the only tradie out there.

"There are lots of other women tradies and lots of different trades to try.

"It was amazing to see the look on her face when she used a drop saw for the first time. It made me quite teary. I was really pleased."

Equipping women to be more independent around the house

For painter and decorator Fiona Shewring, the opening of the permanent shed is the culmination of a dream that started in 2009.

"We're basically giving people confidence to actually go 'I can do this — it's not something that I can't do'. And that makes a difference," she said.

While the group provides classes, support and access to jobs for women looking at careers in the trades, Ms Shewing also wants to empower women with a free basic skills course so they can be more independent when it comes to fixing things around the house.

Tradie
Fiona Shewring came up with the idea of a women's shed in 2009.

ABC News: Antonette Collins

"We were donated some locks for doors and initially I was thinking what are we going to do with these and then I thought, we'll teach women to change locks which in any situation is great but especially important if you're in a domestic violence situation because then you're in control of your life."

Women contemplating a career in the trades are often put off by the male dominated workplace and inflexible work hours.

But tradeswomen networks like SALT are seeing the number of apprenticeships and demand for female workers rise.

"Companies are coming to us and asking us to help them diversify their trades because they can see the difference it makes having a diverse workforce," Ms Shewring said.

And she said the career opportunities are endless.

"We've all had amazing careers. And when people think of the trades, they think carpenter, plumber, electrician. What they don't realise is the depth and breadth of the different trades are huge.

"It should be a first choice for a career."