Women making history in construction

The number of women entering construction continues to grow, resulting in a shift across the sector. In 2023, 6.12% of apprentices training through BCITO were female, up from less than 1% in 2015.

But it’s not just the numbers that are proving construction is for everyone. From stonemasonry to joinery, women are leading and excelling in their trades, winning some of the industry’s most prestigious competitions.

Kiri Cooper was the first woman to win the Brick and Block Laying Firth Apprentice of the Year Silver Trowel in the award’s 35-year history, while Jess Nielsen was the first woman in the two decade history of Registered Master Builders' Apprentice of the Year to place, taking out third place.

Kiri Cooper at Work

Kiri started her apprenticeship with BCITO and has been going from strength to strength ever since. Winning her award was the best possible validation of everything she’s achieved since being on the tools.

“At first, I was speechless and overwhelmed. Once it sunk in, I just felt so proud of myself for all the time and effort I had put into my training. Everything I had worked hard for had finally paid off. Being the youngest, and the first woman to receive this award, exemplified to me that as women, we are equally as good if not sometimes better than men. We deserve to be here,” Kiri says.

Kiri’s training advisor, Shaun Gibson, pushed her to apply for the Brick and Block Laying Firth Apprentice of the Year competition and supported her throughout her apprenticeship.

“During my first year, we spoke about the award and he told me that I had the potential to win it. He gave me confidence in myself to just go for it and he made the process of getting qualified much easier. I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done to help me get to where I am now,” says Kiri.

Reflecting on the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, Kiri acknowledged that whilst most people she met on site were incredibly welcoming, she found herself trying to prove to others that she belonged.

“I thought that I had to push myself and keep up with the pace of my male co-workers. However, with time I’ve realised that my strengths weren’t in how fast I worked, but in the calibre and quality of work I produced,” she explains.

Jess Nielsen Dropsaw

Jess Nielsen, who received her carpentry apprenticeship through BCITO, is equally adamant there is nothing to be afraid of, and that the trades are a career path for anyone.

“My advice for young women considering a trade is simply to go in with confidence and learn to speak up for yourself. I also think it’s important to focus on the here and now. Everyone progresses at different rates, everyone is on their own journey,” she says.

Despite the historical significance, placing third at Registered Master Builders Apprentice of the Year was only the cherry on top for Jess.

Jess Nielsen Certificate

“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 tradespeople; the competition was an invaluable learning experience,” she continues.

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