Today, The Spinoff launches On Site, a new podcast about the realities of working in the trades. Here, co-host Brooke ‘SparkyGirl’ Thompson talks about her path into the industry.
When I’m on a worksite, drilling through concrete or digging into hard soil and rock, I feel like a badass. It’s an empowering feeling – not only physically, but mentally, owning my space as a female sparky after being told I couldn’t so many times.
I grew up in the south of New Zealand in what I would call a very masculine environment. My sister and I were lucky to be raised by a family who taught us the traits that now help me in the male-dominated world of construction, but we weren’t immune to the internalised bias that surrounded us.
In 2017 I decided I wanted to get out of the hospitality industry and find a career that would inspire me to get out of bed, and my comfort zone, every day. In a strange twist of fate, I’d dated two sparkies in the past and had always thought their work stories sounded far more exciting than mine, so armed with a dedication to prove myself and an enthusiasm to be embarking on a new journey, I approached a few companies to ask about apprenticeship opportunities.
“Are you just doing this to impress your dad?” Is one of the first responses I got. It was just the tip of the iceberg of the comments I have faced in the years since, and at times I’ve thought it was the universe giving me a warning sign: “Wait, Brooke! Are you sure you want to do this?”
I’m not sure whether it was bravery or naivety that got me past that point, but instead of turning around and finding some new career to chase, I dug my heels in and went through a training company instead.
Now I’m just weeks away from finishing my apprenticeship and I’ve become part of a much bigger community of badass women tradies breaking down barriers. Through my social media channels I’ve felt supported along the way by women in similar positions all over the globe, especially when I’ve come up against challenging work situations.
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Sometimes it feels like I’m chipping away at a brick wall when I push back against misogyny on site. Just a few of the crazy things that have happened to me on the tools at times have made me feel like that brick wall is never coming down. I’ve had my ass slapped at work, been followed by a coworker in the car park on site and been given a love letter by a worker at smoko, but I’ve stood staunch and held those people accountable, and have come to realise that there’s a whole line of other rad people in construction who are helping me chip away at that wall too. It’s when our collective voices speak up on these issues publicly that the wall doesn’t just chip, it gets blown up.
Now I get access to cool platforms like this podcast to talk about that journey, the often epic and sometimes harsh realities of being a tradie.
On Site is for everyone in construction, and for everyone thinking about giving this industry a go. It won’t be all sunshine and roof shouts – as well as digging into the how and why of getting into the industry and where a trades career can lead we’ll also have honest and important discussions around issues like representation and mental health – but wherever these little chats take us, I’m really excited to get stuck in.