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International Women's Day 2024

Date: 8/03/2024

Raised rurally near Whitianga, Billie McDonnell always thought they’d get into farming. At the start of their gap year after high school, while doing acoustic lagging contracting, they saw up close what plumbing work involved and decided that it looked easy enough. A few weeks later, they signed up for an apprenticeship. 

Speaking about their apprenticeship experience, Billie found most people were supportive, but not all. “During my apprenticeship [being female] I felt I needed to work harder because I had to prove myself more – which makes the whole thing more rewarding.”  

When asked what barriers there are for women joining plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying, Billie points to the physicality of the job, how long it can take to qualify, and the misconceptions about the work. “I think one of the main reasons is because of what everyone thinks plumbing is. It doesn't have to be a dirty job, which is what everyone assumes it is.”  

“But that's not just necessarily a gender thing. It isn't a job for everyone, but that's like every job. It can be quite a lot of hard work. I do think it is one of the harder trades [more physical]. It's quite intimidating that the apprenticeship is five years, whereas builders and sparkies have their apprenticeships done within 3-4 years. Some people look at that and be quite intimidated by the amount of time it takes.” 

“It’s definitely one of the more complex trades.” 

Now based in Auckland, Commercial gasfitting is Billie’s preferred type of work. They thrive on the big sites where there’s lots of people to make the day “go a little bit faster, a little bit smoother”. Copper work and brazing is what they enjoy the most, the different challenges of working with 15mm to 150mm pipes.  

In the future Billie sees them getting into a managerial role or project management in the building industry.  

Wherever Billie decides to go, their colleagues will be lucky – they enjoy baking in their downtime and bringing it to site. “The boys quite like my baking. They love a good brownie or a caramel slice”. 

Ngā mihi to Billie for the kōrero.