Female engineering duo want more women to join their trade

31 May 2021

Think engineering isn’t for women?

Two female Hamilton-based apprentice engineers are here to change your mind, leading by example in the male-dominated industry.

Elizabeth Humberstone and Leilani Tunnicliff work for Apprentice Training New Zealand (ATNZ), the country’s largest employer of apprentices in mechanical engineering and related industries. ATNZ places their apprentices into “host” companies where they work and learn their trade.

Companies like JP Marshall Engineering, one of the country’s longest-standing steel fabricators and industrial engineering providers, who recently took on hosting Elizabeth and Leilani. In a staff of more than 90, mostly men, the two women do stand out, but as Elizabeth succinctly puts it: “The only way for it to stop being so male-dominated is for more women to join the trade.”

Leilani echoes her sentiments: “I say to other women ‘go for it’. It’s a lot of fun, and while at times it’s hard, it’s worth it in the end.”

ATNZ Account Manager Adrian Gozdz mentors and supports Leilani and Elizabeth through their learning and says the different skillsets and talents the women bring to their host company is highly valued.

“The feedback from JP Marshall is very positive for both women. Their attitude and eye for detail is something the men sometimes lack, a point several companies have identified. I would say that industry is warming to having more women in the sector.”

JP Marshall is a family-owned and operated business, with Adrian Marshall at the helm. He says training has always been an integral part of the company culture and hugely supports women joining the engineering trade.

“From as far back as the 1950s, apprentices have been a key part of the JPM workforce. Our new female apprentices aren’t our first – we had one many years ago – but there aren’t that many knocking on the door in heavy fabrication. We will always encourage more. With a lot more lifting assistance, profile cut parts and smaller components, the modern workplace has removed the strength barrier that has typically been an advantage for males”, he says.

Each woman took a different journey to begin their engineering careers with ATNZ. Elizabeth is halfway through her heavy fabrication qualification and was placed into JP Marshall three months ago. She says growing up on a farm influenced her decision to enter the industry.

“I think it was ingrained in me through watching my father constantly building and altering things on the farm. I love the whole process of engineering. At work, starting with a pile of steel and a drawing and seeing it take shape in whatever it’s meant to be is really enjoyable. There’s such a variety of projects it keeps things interesting.”

Meanwhile, Leilani did an engineering course at Wintec and liked the mechanical side of things. This led to her fitter machinist apprenticeship with ATNZ, of which she is in her third year.

“I enjoy being able to repair and build all sorts of things. I like seeing the things I make become a part of something bigger that actually works! I love watching the different machines at work; it’s fascinating,” she says.

Leilani says she experienced sexism and “old fashioned views” in previous workplaces, but JPM is different.

“There is open communication, and the people here are supportive and always help me if I’m stuck on something.”

Adrian Marshall also strongly encourages anyone – male or female – to learn a trade through an apprenticeship.

“Apprentices are the future of the industry. They bring a malleable mindset and willingness to learn from their more experienced colleagues. They’ll give anything a go, are enthusiastic and quickly adapt to the introduction of new technology.”

Attributes shared by Elizabeth and Leilani.

With less than two years to go until they complete their nationally recognised qualifications, both women already have bright plans for their own futures in the engineering industry. Elizabeth aims to become the 2021 ATNZ Apprentice of the Year, while Leilani wants to manage a machine shop or try her hand at aeronautical engineering.

And challenge outdated stereotypes and thinking along the way.

Pictured above: Leilani Tunnicliff, hosted by JP Marshall, Hamilton.

Pictured top right: Elizabeth Humberstone, hosted by JP Marshall, Hamilton.