Su reveals her journey to empowering women in trades

If there’s one thing carpenter turned teacher Su Hauck will say to other aspiring female tradies, it is this – believe in yourself.

Su’s time as a carpentry teacher may have started just over a year ago, but her decade plus of experience in the trade means that she has plenty of wisdom for other females starting on the path.

For Su, it was helping a carpenter that ignited her passion in the field.

“My journey in trades has probably been a little less traditional than what most apprentices go through,” Su shared.

“I came to carpentry as a mature age person. I was 37 when I first had my experience of carpentry. I was working with a fellow, doing odd jobs. He needed some work done on his sheds, so he brought a carpenter in and said, ‘I’d like you to help them for the next few days’.

“That exposed me to the carpentry side of things and that’s when I took an interest in carpentry.”

Su began searching for a path into the trade, but it proved to be one teeming with challenges.

“Thinking back about 17 years ago, the acceptance of females in the construction industry was kind of not really there,” Su said.

“The first person that I worked for was a female carpenter and that was a short-lived arrangement. I tried to continue with my education on my own and tried to find work with someone else. I couldn’t get it.

“I decided at some point that I’m just going to go out on my own, and that’s what I did. I took jobs that I knew I could do and also took some challenges that forced me to learn more.

“I called on mentors and people that I’ve created a relationship with to help me through those times.”

With her experience stacking up, Su turned to Bendigo TAFE to seek Recognition of Prior Learning to formally acquire a Certificate III in Carpentry (CPC30220) while continuing to work for herself.

Soon, the idea of becoming a teacher began to take shape.

“I realised that I had quite an interest in passing on my knowledge to other people. Specifically I was most interested in teaching women how to use tools, whether it was a formal education or informally, so it seemed like a natural progression to come into teaching,” Su said.

As a carpentry teacher at Bendigo TAFE, Su has been teaching a diverse range of students, including other women.

“I have actually had a group that had five female students within a group of about 15. It was from the age of 16 up to a 60 year old student,” she said.

“My experience is they seem very attentive, do their work quite well and are pretty keen. Their skills are showing; they’ve got good skills and I’m really excited and pleased for them.”

Now a set builder, Cheyney Caddy turned her love for building into a formal skillset by completing Su’s pre-apprenticeship training course at Bendigo TAFE.

“I came into a class here that had a real mix of ages and genders, and a really good vibe. A lot of the building I’d done on my own was self-taught, so it was really nice to have a community around me for the first time,” Cheyney said.

“Su is really good at allowing students to do self-paced learning. So even though we were all working on different things, I never felt like I was either behind or waiting for people to catch up.”

Image: Su (right) with her student Cheyney (left)

Su says women have a lot of potential to succeed in the trade – if they do not give up.

“From my experiences, I felt quite excluded and the pathway for me was to create my own pathway,” she said.

“I think that’s changed. Now there’s a lot of support… women are being recognised as quite capable and it’s being proven. I’ve seen it in the students that I’ve had and I’m pretty sure employers are finding the same thing with their female workers. They’re seeing great results.

“The primary piece of advice for another female carpenter would be to believe in themselves. Don’t let anyone else put you off. Anytime I’ve ever succeeded is because I didn’t give up.”

She may not be working as a full-time carpenter anymore, but as a teacher, Su is building a new foundation for the next generation of tradies.

“This was an opportunity that I was given. It was recognised as something that needed to happen – to have female trainers in the industry, not only so that young women coming in have a role model to look up to, but also to show the young guys that women can be in charge,” she said.

If former student Cheyney’s experience is anything to go by, Su is well on track to making a positive difference in the industry.  

“Su gave me a lot of one-on-one help. I think it was particularly fantastic having a teacher who didn’t underestimate what I was capable of. I think that happens to women a lot, but that was never the case here,” Cheyney said.

“All the young men that she trains are going out with a respect for women and what they can achieve, and so that’s a cycle breaker in itself.”

Bendigo TAFE is recognising and celebrating the achievements of its teachers this World Teachers Day on 27 October. Learn more about Bendigo TAFE courses, including carpentry, building and construction here.

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