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Personal Spot-light Story: A rural career, Covid-19 and a move into the trades

The last two years of the pandemic, have presented multiple new opportunities for both candidates and industry – women in particular have reconsidered careers out of necessity looking a little outside the traditional box of female careers.

I stumbled across Emily (online) from NZ Custom Trees, who has recently moved into a new job working in the trades for their family’s franchised NZ Building Shed Company. Hers is an interesting story, one about persistence, hard work, an open mind and a sense of ‘why not’?!

I caught up (virtually) with Emily, to ask about her career story so far, and what motivated a move into her current role. I hope it sparks something in you to consider a job in the trades and construction.

Tell us briefly what you have been doing most of your career?
I live in Canterbury on a lifestyle block with my husband and two children aged 1 & 2. We run a few sheep, some cattle and a horse.

I grew up on a Sheep and Beef farm in North Canterbury as a 6th Generation farmer and my life plan was to be a sheep and beef farmer so I went on to study a Bachelor of Agriculture at Lincoln University after which I did some shepherding and general farm hand work on sheep and beef farms. I quickly realized the progression in the Dairy farming industry so decided to change careers and excelled within the dairy farming industry quickly, resulting in managing a dairy unit and being responsible for the team of staff, all aspects of animal health and nutrition in only a few short years.

My next step was to purchase my own herd of cattle, however due to needing an artificial hip I had to step back from the physical demands of farming and looked for an opportunity within the Agricultural industry where I could also be my own boss. I found this as a real estate salesperson working for Farmlands Real Estate in North Canterbury, initially as a PA while I completed training and then as one of the salespeople. Working as a rural salesperson allowed a lot of flexibility to enable me to stay in the Agricultural scene and allowed opportunity to get involved with organisations such as young farmers while also discovering other passions outside of agriculture like business, property investing and photography.

I worked for Farmlands Real Estate for three years until I started a family and took on a little bit of truck and bus driving work to cover the bills at the same time as setting up my own company so I would be able to stay busy when I was at home with the children.

The company is NZ Custom Trees Ltd in which I make and sell artificial life-sized trees for commercial businesses, I operate my business part time from home and my husband and I also run a shed building company which we have recently franchised NZ wide.

You’ve just jumped into a tradie job, what motivated the side-step into this particular industry?
Due to Covid-19 and lockdown issues a lot of the sales from my Artificial tree company stopped and all events we had planned for the remainder of the year were cancelled virtually overnight , we have also just finished franchising our shed Building company NZ wide, so my workload went from an absolute struggle to twiddling my thumbs.

This prompted me to look for employment. I was applying mainly for Executive assistant type roles, or other similar office based positions. All roles I was applying for were at or below my skill set so I thought I would pick up a job almost instantly…. boy was I wrong! I applied for jobs for about a month and most came back as “you haven’t progressed to interview stage” meanwhile we were interviewing for another builder in our shed building company for a 6-month fixed term position but we were let down continuously by our applicants.

I made the joke to my husband that I was looking for a job, he was looking for a worker… maybe I should go building (lol) but he thought it was a good idea and maybe I should give it a go.

So I gave it a go and although very sore after the first day I really enjoyed it!

What are you currently loving about the work you do?
I love the guys I am working with, it is a really great team and a positive nurturing work environment. I definitely wouldn’t be able to work with my husband so its nice that he is in the office currently.

I am working Monday to Thursday so this allows me flexibility to keep my company operating and have gone back to outsourcing my production while I am busy on the construction site.

I enjoy getting up before the sunrise and I love the feeling of coming home exhausted after a long hard days work. The hours are long; I generally leave home before 6am and am back home after 6pm which does make the home-work balance a little difficult but the crock pot is now my new best friend.

How have you been welcomed or inducted into this new industry in terms of those you work with?
The team are really great, they explain things well and are supportive when I make silly errors. They are very thorough with the training and I have learned new skills every day.

I am quite unfit, so was in a lot of pain carrying the heavy tool belt around and lifting large rafters for the first few days. However, my body is building up strength to it now. I am also being trained in moving the heavy boards that are easier on the body.

What message do you have for other women who might be considering a move into the trades and construction?
I definitely recommend other women should consider getting into the trades, as it is a really great industry which is currently booming. There are a lot of different types of roles within the industry as well. If you are keen to see if construction is for you I would recommend contacting a local construction company and see if you can be an apprentice for a day and see if it’s something you would enjoy before you invest in the tools. Fitness and strength is another key part, so building some strength beforehand may help with your job application as well as make those first few weeks a little easier on your body.