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Two local girls at National Association of Women In construction (NAWIC) Excellence Awards

Excellence Awards are always exciting events. On Friday, 1 July 2022, the national Apprentice Awards for Women In Construction was held in Wellington at Te Papa. This event was for the whole of the country. The major sponsor, Naylor Love, plus ten other sponsors and twelve gift/product sponsors, plus an army of NAWIC committee volunteers made the 2022 event one to remember.

This was especially so for Jessica Moverley from Whitianga and Billie McDonnel from Coroglen who were national finalists. There were a record breaking 190 nominations, resulting in 53 finalists across 11 categories. A cohort of 40 judges and moderators undertook the task of carefully going through each nomination, calling references, and interviewing. The diversity represented across the award winners, from culture, background through to generational was noticeable. Jess was a national finalist in the Apprentice Excellence category, and Billie in the Tradeswoman of the Year category, though neither of the girls took out the number one spot in their section.

Jess, who is an apprentice with Ideal Buildings, Coromandel, located in Whitianga, was very honoured to represent her region and her employer. We asked, was it hard getting her apprenticeship? “It was quite easy,” says Jess, now 26 years of age, “But my other jobs previous to this were very difficult. I got my first building job in 2014. People don’t expect a woman to be as good, or that they will know anything. You are excluded from decisions or avoided, but now, at this stage, though there are things about any job that aren’t so great, I like all aspects of being a builder.” Jess is also a regional finalist for the Master Builders Apprentice of the Year which is coming up in August. This is in partnership with Carters, and is the leading apprentice competition for the building and construction sector. It recognises excellence among carpentry apprentices and raises awareness of career opportunities in the building and construction industry. The competition tests project management, business and presentation skills as well as practical skills.

Billie McDonnel is a plumber. She rated in the top five in the country in her category.

“When I was 18, I was working for my Dad, who is a plumber, doing contract legging which is wrapping pipes in acoustic legging to deaden the sound of water. I thought, this looks easy. Well, it wasn’t but it was okay, and I signed up to be an apprentice. That was a five-year apprenticeship and I finished in April this year.” When asked about difficulties in her vocation, Billie explains, “ I have had a lot of challenges. I nearly gave up when I broke my femur in the first four months of my apprenticeship. I ended up in the office and I could tell people were thinking, ‘the boss’ daughter, she’s doing nothing.’ Actually, my Dad pushed me harder because he wanted me to do well in what he knew was a difficult environment. It’s still a male dominated industry. A woman has to work harder to prove themselves. When you show up for a job, you are questioned more than if you were male.” Billie no longer works for her Dad. At 23, she is now a registered Plumber, Gas Fitter and Drain Layer working for Chenery Plumbing as a site foreman in Auckland city. Proudly, Billie says” It’s the same company where my father had his apprenticeship. My advice to other girls is, figure out what you want to do. Ask a company to take you on for work experience. Test it out. It is hard and you have to work harder, but in the end, it’s worth it.” As for the future, I am aiming to be certified. It’s another big written exam, and I’m nervous. It means I’ll be signing off jobs, so the exam needs to prove that I know what I’m doing. Billie chuckles. “My Dad, Jim McDonnel is still a plumber working in Auckland and home for the weekend. I miss coming home to Coroglen I miss the beach and the farm.”

When Jess was asked about her current apprenticeship with Ideal Building, with a big grin she didn’t hesitate, “I’m loving it.”

I would say, Billie McDonnel’s response would be the same. In 20021, 17 percent of apprentices in New Zealand were women.

“When you show up for a job, you are questioned more than if you were a male.”

Pictured: Billie McDonnell at the Awards.

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