20 Jan 2016

Making It Work: Charlie Camp

3:10 pm on 20 January 2016

Making It Work is a series about young New Zealanders and their unexpected jobs.


Charlie Camp knows her way around a drum kit just as well as she does a construction site. With earmuffs resting on her pastel green hair, she hammers nails into the wooden frame of a Titahi Bay house.

The 27-year-old is a building apprentice and long-time drummer who has been playing in Wellington punk bands for years.  

Knowing there wasn’t much hope in making a living from punk rock, Charlie started working in hospitality but grew tired of the industry after a few years. She joined her dad's construction company as a labourer and not long after, decided to start a three-year building apprenticeship.

Construction is one of the country’s most segregated workforces. Only about 14 per cent of those employed in the industry are women, according to the latest figures from Statistics NZ. During the two years she’s been training, Charlie says she’s met just a handful of other women in construction.

“[Dad] spent about two months trying to talk me out of it. He said it's really hard work, it’s really physically labour intensive and he wasn’t sure if I was able to do it.”

He was (partly) right. Charlie describes building as “the hardest job” she’s ever done. But the straight-talking, fast-thinking Kiwi has been holding her own amongst a sea of men.

“I do get teased just as much as the other apprentices that I work with...they just make you feel like you’re a bit of a dick and you’re not very good, but it’s their way of sort of showing you that they care and they want you to be better.”  

Last year, Charlie was highly commended in the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Excellence Awards. She was described as a worker who didn’t “shrink away from challenges.” Now she’s keen to see other young women take on the challenge, too.

“If kids see you working in these industries from a young age then that seed is planted in their head and they start to see it as an option for them.”

If you’re told that it’s not an option for you, you’re never going to believe that it is.

“If you’re told that it’s not an option for you, you’re never going to believe that it is.”

Cathy Tracey, former president of NAWIC, says the huge gender gap in the industry comes down to the fact that construction is still seen a man’s job.

“I think ask somebody to picture a construction worker in their mind, they’d immediately picture a male with a tool belt. Maybe a hardhat and steel toe boots, too. But across the sector a wide range of jobs actually vary from that image.”

One place where this image is especially fast-changing is Christchurch where the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes had a major effect on the numbers of women in construction.

“I think a lot people lost their jobs and they had to look beyond what they had normally been doing. Jobs in offices and retail just ended in a second. People had to cast a wider net,” says Cathy.

Nearly one in five construction workers in Canterbury are women – that’s up 140 per cent from 2013. And more women are enrolling in training with Christchurch Polytechnic (CPIT) seeing a jump from just 50 in 2011 to 431 in 2014.

Cathy spent 17 years working as a carpenter. She is now a training advisor, letting other women know that a job off the beaten track is a rewarding one.

“Women still aren’t really aware of the opportunities that are available in the construction industry. Some of that is about the advice their receiving at careers level at secondary school and I think, out in the wider world, we haven’t quite got the knowledge out there.”

From architects, quantity surveyors and site managers to like electricians, carpenters and builders; there is a huge diversity in the industry that people don’t realise, says Cathy.

“It’s like anything; once people get to know you, it’s not about your gender but your ability to fit into the team and get the job done.”

Video shot and edited by John Lake.