Recently I put the call out for Women willing to take part in sharing their story for our My Trade Story segment, I was thrilled with the response I received. Occasionally you are blessed to have the opportunity to meet an amazing person and I was blown away by Lorraine’s story, I think you will be too.
I’m Lorraine, Carpenter & Joiner and business owner of Rainey Wood Works. I’m a surfer, cat mother and I volunteer a lot of my time to TradeUP, a not for profit organization that encourages women into trades.
Rainey Wood Works provides general carpentry and maintenance coupled with commissioned based works, along with workshops run by me for other women to learn basic tool skills.
I never grew up watching my father build things in the backyard, in fact my parents separated before I was 2. I had no strong male influence that caused me to want to become a Carpenter. I had never used a drill, I didn’t know the difference between drilling or screwing. When I moved out of home at 18 my first tool use was putting together my newly purchased bed, which basically required an allen key in a flat pack style construction.
After working in an office environment for three years and hating it for a large portion of that time, I decided I needed a life change. I never thought of carpentry as a male dominated trade or that the building industry would be filled with mostly men. It truly never once crossed my mind.
Looking back at my childhood I did a lot of things that were ”male dominated” and never once batted an eye lid. No one else seemed to mind me being there and I managed to squeeze my awkward pubescent body into males clothing throughout my scouting years and also at a younger age as an ”alterboy” at church on Saturday nights, without too many issues, so it really never crossed my mind to stop and think about what I was getting myself into. In fact it still doesn’t cross my mind too much today, until I’m talking with someone who is surprised and wants to know what it’s like working in such a male dominated field.
I’d never had some deep sense of longing to be a carpenter, I actually didn’t even truly know what it was when I applied for a pre-apprenticeship at TAFE. I figured it had something to do with wood and that was good enough for me. There were three things I loved through school, Dance, Sewing and Woodwork. I was too old for the first, decided the industry was too small in Perth for the second so figured I’d go with the third. Plus tradies make a tonne of money right?! It was surely worth a go?
I applied, was accepted, and began a pre-apprenticeship. I was more concerned about being one of the oldest in the class over being too concerned that I was the only female. I had no tool skills what so ever but I was guided quite quickly and accurately by the lecturers and before I knew it I’d fallen in love with carpentry. Before I finished my pre-apprenticeship I had a company contacting me to come work for them, I signed up as an apprentice and began ”my time”. I was guided by a mentor Allan Murton, who was of great encouragement to me. He suggested I complete my Builder’s diploma and so 6 months into my apprenticeship I began the Diploma. Working on site by day and taking classes at TAFE 2 sometimes 3 nights a week to complete it. It was a long haul. I got through my apprenticeship time and a year later finished up my diploma in builders registration too.
During my apprenticeship I was slightly ignorant or perhaps just naive. I still didn’t see a difference between myself and the blokes. My whole life I’d been friends with males, working alongside them didn’t seem to phase me much at all. Looking back at it now I can see it wasn’t as easy as I kept telling everyone. I had to constantly prove myself, way more than the boys did and I would quite often be tested and pushed to my absolute limits to see if I’d crack or not. Most of the bosses I had during my apprenticeship (I was with a group training scheme so moved around through a variety of companies gaining as much skills and knowledge as I possibly could) were really great. One of my favourites, Jon, said to me (the first time I tried lifting a solid core door), if you can’t do it there’s no point being here. You will not be a carpenter if you cannot physically handle the work, may seem harsh, but I think he knew it’s exactly what I needed to hear, a sort of way to boost my confidence. He showed me the correct way to do it and I haven’t had a problem carrying and hanging doors since. My apprenticeship was no breeze or walk in the park it was hard, but still I loved it. If giving up meant I would have to go back to working life in an office then there was really no question about finishing it. What I soon learnt once I finished was that it wasn’t just because I was an apprentice that things were so difficult. I quickly came to realise that work will actually be hard at times, I will always have to prove myself (even still to this day). Some men will accept what I do and some will not. I may not be able to change anyone’s mind and it’s not my place to do so. I have to be ok with what I do, be confident, continue learning as much as I can and things will be ok. It can be so frustrating having to explain why I do what I do, time after time but I can appreciate the curiosity in people also. Now I just hope to show other women that they too can do this if they so choose. You can’t be what you can’t see. If even just one girl sees me in work gear, or doing carpentry and that prompts them to think they too could do it, or do something they love, even if that means challenging society’s perception of what a woman ‘’should’ be doing, then I will die a happy woman.
I never anticipated that I would have my own business. I wasn’t all that concerned about having to search for work, deal with accounts, invoicing or consider taking on workers but when I suddenly found myself in a position where I couldn’t work due to ill health I realized something had to change. I had tonsillitis back to back for between 6-8months until I finally had the tonsils removed. Every time I tried to return back to site, during this time, I’d end up too ill to work and decided enough was enough. I’ll get the tonsils cut out and then look at work once I had recovered. During this period of managing constant tonsillitis I began to volunteer. I worked at Art Gallery’s, jumped onto festival programming committees and I networked as hard as I could. Around the same time I opened up to a friend about how wonderful it would be to just make stuff for people, just make things out of wood and not return to working on site. They posed the question to me ‘’why don’t you?’’
While all this was happening I had the chance to spend a decent amount of time with a close friend who was terminally ill. This taught me two important things. The first was that Life can be short, make the most of it and second was that we don’t know what life’s going to throw at us (8 months of tonsillitis was further evidence of this), if I could find a way to make a living on my own and create flexibility in my life then I would get to do more of the things I love and live the life that I can look back and be proud of. With all of this newly found wisdom I set out and gave birth to a new business Rainey Wood Works in Oct 2014 and now I truly couldn’t imagine life any other way.
I believe we need to stop thinking that jobs are made for certain people. You make a job what it is and if you love something and can be shown/taught correctly then you truly can do anything. Small business is becoming big business these days, people want flexibility. Some might say it’s just millennials being demanding but I think as a society we are realizing how precious life is and that while we have so much to contribute to society we have a lot to achieve for ourselves too. The 9-5 idea of work is very quickly going to slip into an old way of working. For this to happen we have to be open to the idea of new ways of working. We have to stop pigeonholing careers. We have to accept women on construction sites, in mine sites, in other STEM fields. We just need to get over this idea that men go out to work and women stay home and tender to their children. That just doesn’t work for everyone anymore. We need to move with the times and while it can be confronting for some I think it’s just important that we guide our children to find what brings them joy, what do they love to do? Figure that out then find a way to make a career out of it. Leave gender, age, race and bias out of it.
A lesson to share with others looking at going into construction;
Don’t let your gender hinder you. Find at least one person who believes in you and can support you through your journey. You will come up against adversity. You will have people telling you that you’re in the wrong job. You will constantly have to prove your worth. If it upsets you, go home, cry it out, have some wine and pick yourself up for a new day on site. Be open to learning, look after your body (physically and mentally), you only have one. Know that you are worthy and just follow your passion.
In five years’ time I would like to see myself still running Rainey Wood Works. I would love to see myself as a mother and business owner. I am open to changing and molding my business to suit my lifestyle in whichever way that happens to change and move over the years. The great thing about life is it’s never stagnant, it’s constantly changing and the best part about owning your own business is that you get to change it to suit you.
Are you a lady tradie? Where do you fit in the industry? Do you have a story to share?