Real Lives - Career switch success

Saturday 24th of August 2019
apprenticeships plumbing womenintrades

First-year plumbing apprentice Raukawa Paama has found the career to suit her practical skills—and encourages other females to consider the trades. 

The thing Raukawa Paama likes most about plumbing is that she’s finally getting to build stuff. At college in Whanganui, she really wanted to study building or woodwork but couldn’t get into those classes. There wasn't much information or encouragement for female students to take up trades then.

Today, the 30-year-old mother-of-two is a first-year Masterlink plumbing and gasfitting apprentice hosted by Plumbing & Gas Works (PGW) in Hamilton—and she loves it. A creative and practical person, Raukawa says, “I see plumbing as an art form. It’s a great feeling to take pride in quality work you have achieved.”

Not only is the work hands-on and satisfying, but she loves the variety. Her first day on the job involved drainlaying in the pouring rain, and she couldn’t stop until the job was complete. More recently she’s been fitting out 90 en-suite bathrooms in a brand new block at a retirement village and has enjoyed seeing the project through from start to finish. “I’m learning lots and my colleagues are great,” she says.

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It's a great feeling to take pride in quality work you have achieved.

 From Army storeman to apprentice plumber 

Raukawa doesn’t find it difficult working on male-dominated construction sites. After leaving school, she served five years as the first female ‘storeman’ for Combat School in the NZ Army Logistics Corps, based at Waiouru training camp. She took care of stores including weapons, ammunition and clothing for Infantry and Light Armoured Vehicle training corps, often going out in the field to manage equipment during training exercises in the bush.

At 21 she left the Army, moved to Australia and worked in warehousing, later going on to marry and start a family. In 2017 she decided it was time for a fresh start. Raukawa and her two children moved back to New Zealand and she started looking for a job with better career prospects.

Asked how she got into plumbing, Raukawa laughs and says, “It’s a bit of a strange story. I saw Australian Survivor contestant Aimee Stanton talking on TV about changing her career from beauty therapist to plumber. That resonated with me because I did work experience at school with a hairdresser and soon realised it wasn’t for me. I thought to myself, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’”

 Women can make great plumbers

Raukawa began a six month pre-trade plumbing course at Wintec and approached PGW for work experience. They were so impressed they took her on as a full-time labourer when she finished her course, and signed her up through the Master Plumbers-owned Masterlink apprentice management company in 2018.

Mike Foote, PGW General Manager says she had the attitude they were looking for. “Raukawa’s willing to give anything a go and eager to learn. She fits in with our culture and gets along with everyone. She has become a well-respected colleague in a very short amount of time. She recently won our ‘Company Wide Teamwork’ award, receiving multiple nominations from other team members.”

While Raukawa is the first female apprentice for PGW, Mike knows women can make great plumbers. Twenty years ago, his sister qualified as a plumber and gasfitter. “Raukawa doesn’t want or need any special treatment because she is female,” he says. “She wants to be treated like any of our other employees.”

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 Raukawa doesn't need or want any special treatment at work for being a female tradesperson.

 Thankful for all the support

Raukawa says Plumbing & Gas Works is a terrific company to work for and a great bunch of guys to work alongside. “They also give lots of help and support with work and study. Even though it’s the only company I’ve been with, I wouldn’t want to be with any other. Thanks heaps to Mike and Jacob [Smith, company foreman].” 

She is grateful for the support Masterlink provides too. “I heard great things about Masterlink from fellow apprentices and decided it was the better option for me. If I need anything I know I can pick up my phone and call my Regional Manager any time.”

Raukawa also appreciates how lucky she is to have the support of her parents. It’s not easy being on apprentice wages with young kids to look after, but she knows change will come in time. 

“The good thing about a trade is that your pay increases as you get more experience. And once you qualify you could end up owning your own business.”

Her six year old daughter is proud her mum is training to be a plumber and wants to be just like her when she grows up. And Raukawa is keen to encourage other women into trades. "If you really want to go into the industry just do it—think of your reason why and never give up."

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 Thirty-year-old Masterlink apprentice Raukawa Paama is in the first year of her training at Plumbing & Gas Works in Hamilton and loving her career switch. 

This blog has been adapted from an article by Joanne Caine in NZ Plumber magazine, Aug-Sep 2019 issue.