Helping others to be their best

“For the future, for women in trades, the world is their oyster”.

For Sue Walters, administration and HR manager at Northland Scaffolding, working in a male-dominated industry simply means working in a mutually respectful environment with people she thinks of as an extended whanau.

Sue, who has worked for Northland Scaffolding for five years, says one of the highlights of her job is working with the different personalities among the company’s management and crew, is the camaraderie they have developed.

Now in her 50s, Sue believes working environments have come a long way for women since she took on one of her first jobs as a 16-year-old “head office girl”.

“I really don’t like that term, and it certainly wouldn’t be used now, which I’m grateful for.”

Instead, Sue says she and the other three female staff at Northland Scaffolding are always treated with respect, as just considered part of the team.

“Being a woman in a male-dominated industry could throw up some roadblocks, but I’ve been really lucky and haven’t had any. The majority of my colleagues are men and they totally respect me. It’s a mutual respect; we all have great ideas and we work together for the greater good of this company.”

“Working with our guys out in the yard is an absolute pleasure,” she says adding that the whole team is also well supported by owners Chris and Karyn Douglas.

“They empower us as managers to just get on and run this company as if it’s our own, in the best way we can.”

One of the best parts of Sue’s role is the pastoral care she can offer the staff at Northland Scaffolding, including supporting them through their training. Northland Scaffolding, which has depots in Whangarei, Dargaville and Kerikeri, currently has six trainees enrolled in the New Zealand Certificate in Scaffolding (Trade) (Level 4).

“The most rewarding part of my job is working with these men to help them be the best they can be, including helping them to advance their careers through learning while they’re earning.”

In that respect, Sue says, she and the Northland Scaffolding apprentices get great support from EarnLearn through their account manager Tracey Kingi. “She contacts the men as soon as their books arrive and explain to them how it all works, because that’s pretty daunting; a big box of books for some of our men who aren’t into reading.

“The advantage of doing an apprenticeship is obvious really, it means these guys can earn an income for their whanau, while they’re learning. It’s a three-year apprenticeship so that would be a long time to not earn an income.”

As a teenager, Sue had two possible career goals in mind; being a counsellor or an accountant. She thinks her current role is the perfect mix of both, and advises young women considering a career in specialist trades to “just go for it”.

“With Scaffolding, we’re out there working on projects before they’re even built. It’s really exciting, and when you see the end result you feel great about it.”

See Sue’s video interview here.

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