Cementing her place: Apprentice Jess Nielsen crafts her own success

In the construction world, women have proved they too are champion chippies, redefining who can be a black belt on the tools. Jujitsu practitioner Jess Nielsen stands out as a trailblazer after placing third at the 20th Annual Registered Master Builders Apprentice of the Year competition; the first woman to place and the second ever to reach the national competition. Jess's story is a testament to the dedication and skill of up-and-coming industry professionals.

Becoming a builder wasn’t a predetermined path for Jess, it was a thoughtful decision rooted in trial and error, and a genuine affinity for hands-on work. After taking a gap year after high school, Jess happened to work a few labouring jobs and discovered a passion for the tools. It’s clear that sitting around isn’t in Jess’s make-up; she signed up for a building apprenticeship, landing a job with Sloan Annand Builders in Taumarunui. Beyond the construction site, as well as practising martial arts, Jess leads a well-rounded life as a ski instructor and volunteer fire brigade member.

Jess Nielsen Dropsaw Closeup

That passion for getting stuck in and tackling things head-on led her to take on the challenge of entering Apprentice of the Year. Paul Heaslip, Jess’ BCITO, Te Pūkenga Training Advisor encouraged her to enter and supported her throughout the entire process. He attended both the practical events and awards evenings, backing her all the way.

“Paul was always encouraging of me throughout my entire apprenticeship, and I greatly appreciated it. His main piece of advice was just to go out there and give it your all, which I certainly did,” explains Jess.

Jess’ boss, Sloan Annand, says he’s grateful for the kind of support Jess received, highlighting the crucial role mentors play in shaping the industry’s future, and aiming to do the same for the apprentices he works with.

“Back in the day I had some talented builders train me. I got great grounding and learnt techniques and methods I still use today. It is great to be able to share this knowledge with another generation. And Jess was always enthusiastic, committed, and willing to learn,” he says.

Jess Nielsen Practical

Despite all the support from both her mentors, receiving her top three place wasn’t a walk in the park. The regional competition was overwhelming for her, and she was a bundle of nerves. However, Jess thrives on adversity and relaxed into the challenge.

“Going into the regional competition I didn’t know what to expect and I was stressed. Whilst the national competition was a lot more involved than the regionals, I switched my mindset for the national competition; I focused on keeping calm and creating a plan,” says Jess.

Placing third is an incredible achievement, but for Jess it was the cherry on top.

Jess Nielsen Award

“I loved meeting the other apprentices and representatives from BCITO, CARTERS, and Registered Master Builders. It’s not often you’re in a room with so many knowledgeable trades people, the competition was an invaluable learning experience,” Jess says.

She’s keen to let other young women who may be considering a career in the trades know that there is nothing to be afraid of.

“My advice is simply to go in with confidence and speak up for yourself.”

Having graduated from her apprenticeship with the ultimate accolades, she’s now heading for a new role (and a new challenge) in Wanaka. Watch this space.

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