There’s something very special happening in the ACT

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Female BricklayerWhen a woman of 45 with a teenage family decides to take on a bricklaying apprenticeship, she’s doing much more than stirring the pot by entering a trade dominated by males.

When Susie Walsh decided to take on a bricklaying apprenticeship in her husband’s bricklaying business she did it because she was keen to learn and be part of the business – and why not?  She had the confidence and courage to know that her maturity could be a plus – it would direct how she learned her skills – intelligently – to maximise her capability with a shovel and a trowel.

She had the patience to know that she would gradually build her strength through repetition, progressively increasing the demands on her body.  Now in her second year she’s feeling very fit and able to do about 70% of the physical onsite work. Her experience alone is remarkable enough, but what is even more interesting is how it impacts on other students.

There is much discussion about offsite training at present.  But interesting dynamics occur when you have a very seasoned trainer from MBA, a knowledgeable older female figure as a student, plus a class of young males not known for their outgoing, strong communication skills or desire to step outside their comfort zone!

Susie’s teacher at MBA who she sought out for her training is Brian Lawrence, a very experienced ACT trainer.  He also trained Steve Walsh, Susie’s husband.  Brian has seen it all and apparently thought it was a great idea when Steve proposed that Susie take up the Apprenticeship.  The outcome has been that because of Susie’s outgoing and nurturing personality she’s taken on an unplanned role in helping her younger class mates think more about what they want to say and how to express it in class.

Brian has to contain her enthusiasm for wanting to answer every question but having done that, Susie gets great pleasure in helping Brian mould the younger and less experienced class mates.  Not surprisingly, they took some time to open up to her it seems.  After they got past asking her ‘What are you doing here?’ they are now pretty comfortable, Susie believes.  With three teenage daughters of her own she is very familiar with the challenges facing young people in confidently asserting themselves and having opinions.

Susie was not unfamiliar with the role of mentoring before her own apprenticeship, having been onsite labouring for two years.  She explains ‘Steve trained Josh Weber as an Apprentice Bricklayer in recent times and we were acutely aware that when you have the responsibility for an apprentice ‘you’re building a young man, not just a house’.  We were conscious that we were moulding this person and that how we taught him to approach his training, such as not just how to estimate a quotation but how to present it, verbally, was shaping Josh for his future life.”

On the issue of gender, Susie believes ‘girls should have a go’ at bricklaying if they want.  Clearly it must have helped to have your husband as an employer/trainer and in Susie’s case, having a strong and positive character to ensure you can stand up for yourself is a real plus.  However, Susie believes that applying the principles of learning to do things cleverly and building your body strength gradually, means women can be successful bricklayers.  In her own experience, early on, there were several guys on the team to step in if a wheel barrow was too heavy for example and she is adamant she didn’t hold back in asking for help.  Susie believes that women learn differently to men and so the manner of teaching has to be different so employers need to recognise this.

As well as developing skills for effective work, it’s important to learn how to do things safely.  Steve and Susie have a motto ‘get home alive’ as working on scaffolding is probably the single biggest risk onsite.

Steve and Susie are joint owners in their new Company, ‘Sound Building’, which encompasses both bricklaying and what has previously been a hobby, audio production.