Teaching girls and women the tools of the trade

Jamie-Lee Bowditch learning a new skill under the watchful eye of SALT president and founder Fi Shewring.

It was the idea of teaching women and girls how to use basic tools and opening up their minds to what they are capable of that led Fi Shewring to establish Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen (SALT). 

With the aim of teaching as many women and girls as possible, Fi and her crew travel around Australia with their unique mobile workshop, empowering girls from age five, right up to women in their nineties, who have enjoyed learning how to use tools.

Through research, Fi identified that a majority of women who were succeeding in apprenticeships had been taught to use tools at an early age. With many employers telling SALT that women do not apply for the jobs that they offer and they struggled to get women to apply, SALT decided to take on generating social change. 

Hosted at the Gundagai Men’s Shed, SALT presented their 419th workshop to girls from Gundagai High School on Tuesday. It was the second workshop undertaken by students from the local high school after SALT first visited the school in 2013.

“I did a lot of research before I started SALT and I discovered that one thing that was making women sustainable in the trades was that they had been taught to use basic tools at a very young age, between the ages of five and 12, which was basically what used to happen to boys,” Fi said.

“It made sense that if we went around and taught as many women and girls as possible how to use basic tools, it would open up their minds as to what they were capable of.” 

While a great steppingstone for young women interested in entering a trade, the very least the workshop does is give participants basic life skills with tools which are useful to all women in their everyday lives. 

“Whether that is helping themselves in their own home by doing handyperson work – we don’t ever teach things that a tradesperson should do, but they can help themselves which is an important thing – to keeping people strong and independent,” Fi said.

“But the very important thing for us is that we see a huge shift through this workshop in the individual regarding what they think they are capable of. Their confidence is boosted, they are empowered, they know they can do this.

“We have taught this workshop to people that are age five, and the oldest person was 96. We also believe that by teaching older people, we are helping them remain independent but we’re also changing their families, trying to generate social change and attitudes toward women and girls, including their own attitudes as well.

“We know from the feedback that we’re getting that it is changing, that it’s having an effect. We went to schools in Cobar and Broken Hill on this tour and after we’d been to those schools in 2016, five girls in each school went into a trade, and we’ve also had girls from here go into a trade, and we were here in 2013.”

SALT also invites companies in to share information with students that can lead to apprenticeships. 

“It sets them on a path, if they choose that, and it gives them ongoing support through the years,” Fi said.

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