As a woman in the traditionally male-dominated field, Vittoria Colonna (a.k.a. Tori) has had to work extra hard to prove herself. There is a social stigma with women getting into trades, especially in fields like electrical engineering. It isn’t quite the social norm yet.
"Anyone can go get a degree, but being employable is a different thing!"
Being a woman, Tori explains, we tend to be more concerned about how we look to others. She finds that while people commend her for doing what she does, parents would not traditionally encourage their daughters to go into trades. While being a woman in electrical engineering definitely has its own unique set of challenges, there are some benefits.
“[Women] become the best tradespeople you’ve met, because they have had to work extra hard to be taken seriously… I’ve found that there is nothing actually stopping a woman from getting a trade,” said Tori.
Of course, times are changing. Tori sees more and more female interns getting into trades and engineering. She wants to start a support network for girls in trades, hoping to encourage and inspire women to flourish in these environments.
As an Operations Manager at Saint Electrical, Tori’s day-to-day activities vary, from organising projects to getting her hands on the tools themselves. However, turning social perceptions on their heads might be a better description of what she does.
Tori acknowledges that there are some social stigmas about getting into trades. It’s often seen to be a last-resort plan for “naughty boys who didn’t like going to school.” Many people, she explained, look down on tradespeople, thinking that it isn’t a successful way of living. She gets fired up talking about why trades are a sensible and brilliant career pathway.
She believes the practical, hands-on experience of an apprenticeship gives a better education than learning theories in university. That there are unique skills you can only learn through actually doing the job.
Tori obtained a Bachelor of Environmental Management at university, and although she took away a lot of valuable things from her degree, she found that learning on the job enabled her to retain information better, instead of just memorising formulas and regurgitating them for the exams.
Then, Tori explains there's the problem of student loans. She just finished paying her student loan this week, and her hard work was what made it possible. The average student loan debt is around $30,000, but with apprenticeships, she could earn while she learned and pay hers back much quicker than most.
Most importantly, Tori emphasises the importance of employability. “Anyone can go get a degree, but being employable is a different thing!”
Pointing out that having a degree doesn’t immediately equal jobs, Tori shows us the bleak reality: A little under half of university graduates don’t get jobs, and those who do get jobs don’t necessarily work in the field they studied in. While she thinks university can be important, she says that people shouldn’t see it as the best way or the only way, as there are so many other pathways we can take.
The question to school leavers shouldn’t just be, “Which university do you want to go to?”
With our rapidly changing world and technological advances, the career field that school-leavers will enter into will not be the same as it is currently. A whole list of jobs is redundant now – some don’t exist any more, and some can be done by computers. However, trades are something that people are always going to need.
“This isn’t the end of the road; there are endless opportunities and forks in the road, and the main thing is getting on a path. That path will twist and turn!”
We can’t wait to see where Tori’s path will lead her, and which social stereotype she is going to break next.