Author:  Louise Richardson

Jo Stirling on her male colleagues: “I get teased, but they’re great guys and it’s all in good fun!”

Women haven’t traditionally been encouraged to look for work in the construction trade, but nowadays things are changing.

“When I talk to women who want to enter the building industry or wish that they had done when they were younger, I always tell them how important it is not to let fear stop you following your dreams,” says Jo Stirling (30), who is three years into a building apprenticeship in her home town of Queenstown.

As a child she loved constructing things and enjoyed woodwork at school, but it wasn’t until she’d spent time in other occupations, including early childhood care and retail work in a hardware store, that Jo, who by now was mother to two pre-schoolers, suddenly felt the urge to turn that love into a career.

“My partner Logan Davis was very supportive and urged me to go for it, so I started asking around a bit, and eventually Mike McGee at Wakatipu Contractors, who’s an old mate, said that he’d be prepared to give me a try.

“Sure, I was nervous on my first day, but I think anyone starting something new feels that way, and the health and safety stuff I had to learn was pretty full-on!”

Several years later, Jo feels confident that she knows what to do, and says that she and Mike work well together – or apart.

“When he’s busy with other jobs I like to think that I can handle most things and I know when to bolt the frames together or install the insulation – so I’m not as clueless as I was,” she jokes.

Jo has discovered that a sense of humour is essential, in what used to be a predominantly male profession.

“The other tradies I work with aren’t always 100% respectful, especially when my photo’s in the paper or something like that.

“I get teased, but they’re great guys and it’s all in good fun!”

Jo’s children, Niamh, 8 and Eoghan, 7, are proud of their mum and enjoy bonuses, such as a new steel jungle gym, which she made for them in order to practice her welding techniques.

“They do help, but usually not for long because their concentration spans are short and they’re keen on their screens, like all kids these days,” she says.

Jo’s currently building a playhouse for them using wooden pallets and other materials she’s found lying around.

“I think they are learning something from watching me and getting involved.”

In her immediate future is the result of the of the Registered Master Builders Carters Apprentice of the Year competition. If she wins the Southern region category, which will be announced in September, the national competition will follow later in 2019.

Jo says that because she often works alone, she sometimes finds herself thinking out loud and wondering what her long-term future holds.

“It might possibly be more of a managerial role in the construction business because I would enjoy more client contact.

“I’d like to work with people who are planning building projects and give them professional advice.”

Jo hopes that she inspires other women who are interested in careers in construction and, in the meantime, there’s going to be no shortage of work as the country’s most internationally famous resort town continues expanding at a phenomenal rate.


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