Building a career and breaking down barriers

CARLY GOOCH Source: Stuff The Marlborough Express
Last updated 06:48, March 15 2018

Olivia Ward says that the tide is turning in trades - with more female builders, electricians and plumbers taking up apprenticeships.

Working in construction was something Olivia Ward had never really planned for, but the young Blenheim builder is rapidly making a name for herself in the traditionally male-dominated industry.

However, being a tradesperson wasn't something Ward specifically set out to do.

She said she "just really needed a job and kind of fell into it".

In Ward's case, it was the old cliche of who she knew, not what she knew, that gave her a foot in the door. Fred Lilley, owner of Lilley Builders, is the father of friends she went to school with.

"I just bumped into him one day and he offered me a job.

"He just said 'come and have a go and see how you enjoy it'.

"And I did."
Olivia Ward "fell into" a building career but says she now sees it as a job for life.

Before the chance encounter, Ward said she had no clear track for a career path until fate lent a hand.

"I'd just been overseas. I was actually really lost for what I was going to do."

With no study debt and zero experience – at 18-years-old, Ward said she had nothing to lose. 

Her first task on site was building Goldpine sheds which she said was "very simple". 

Ward learned the fundamentals with Lilley for two years before looking to further her career elsewhere.

She applied for a job with Neil Hunt Construction, a company specialising in renovations and extensions. 

She said in her interview Hunt "never looked at me any different because I'm a woman".
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"He just asked if I was a keen, good worker and asked me to start straight away."

After working the industry for the past five years, Ward now feels she's found her calling.. 

"I'll be in the construction industry for the rest of my life. I'd like to get off the tools eventually and more into management."

Being a minority in a job historically made up of men has had its moments. She said male co-workers often offered to lift things for her, which she would decline.

"We quite often get subcontractors on-site and they think I'm the owner of the house. That happens quite a bit."

Ward hasn't been the only one to buck the trend, she said she had seen "plenty" of female gib stoppers, electricians and painters on site.

"There's more young women getting into it now," she said.

Last year, Ward won the Registered Master Builders CARTERS Apprentice of the Year for the upper South Island which took her to the finals in Auckland.

She didn't place in the top three but she said the whole experience was "amazing".

"I met young builders from all around New Zealand ... I was the only woman."

  - The Marlborough Express