9 Sep 2014

Women don the toolbelt for rebuild

8:06 am on 9 September 2014

The Christchurch rebuild is drawing women into formerly male-dominated trade-based jobs.

Christ Church Cathedral.

Christ Church Cathedral. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

With more than 1000km of roads needing repair and 250km of water mains to be laid, more women are putting their hands for the work.

Christchurch's central city is alive with construction, as damaged buildings come down and new structures go up.

Joy Lalahi is a single mum to two young boys and is also completing an electrical apprenticeship.

She said she had been interested in trades from a young age.

"My dad allowed us four kids to help them build our house in Tonga, which was fun, and those sort of skills - being able to swing a hammer, being able to plumb - that's come in handy but electrical is something you need to know what you're doing before you go any where near it."

But she sometimes felt the need to prove herself more than some of the men due to the perception of some people.

"They go 'ah, must be no other choice' because most girls, myself included, like to go out, get dressed up and look nice. To be able to take care of yourself, there's no barriers, you can do whatever you want," she said.

The Bridge of Remembrance in the centre of Christchurch.

The Bridge of Remembrance in the centre of Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Unemployment the driver

Anita Goldwater, who is 26, has just finished a certificate in pre-trade training for painting and decorating and said unemployment made her consider the line of work.

"Not having any financial income coming in to look after my daughter or myself. I was struggling and I saw the billboard and I thought 'why not' ... there's going to be alot of opportunities out there."

Ms Goldwater said she was surprised on her first day when there was 15 women and only five men in the class.

"A lot of us, I guess, have been stay-at-home mums at some point and to be stuck at home in a house that's broken would be a tough run," she said.

"I wouldn't want to be at home while my house was broken so I think if females can feel like they can get somewhere and fix something, or sort something and make this city better, then they're probably getting out and doing that."

Research undertaken by the Ministry of Women's Affairs last year showed most interviewees believed advertising for rebuild-related jobs was directed at men.

More than half of the 500 interviewed said were not sure they could meet the physical demands of rebuild jobs.

Builders working on the roof of a house.

Photo: PHOTO NZ

Responding to changes

The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team has 1500 workers, 10 percent of whom are women in trade roles.

General manager Duncan Gibb said the industry was responding to the changes.

"What you do find is the older the employee, the less used to it they are, but it's funny - the older workers are now looking to be the pseudo father for the young women who are coming into the industry, and the young lads are just used to it," Mr Gibb said.

"The industry is recognising the benefits that women provide and are using them."

The number of women in trade jobs was increasing and Mr Gibb said he believed that was due to the opportunities the rebuild had created.

The Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology said the number of women training in trades had doubled from 5 percent in 2011 to 11 percent this year.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs