Female engineering duo call for more women to join their industry

Image: Leilani Tunnicliff

JP Marshall Engineering (JPM), one of the country’s longest-standing steel fabricators and industrial engineering companies, recently welcomed two female apprentices into the business – Elizabeth Humberstone and Leilani Tunnicliff.

JPM is an Apprentice Training New Zealand (ATNZ) host company and has 90 full time staff working in five workshops spread across its 20,000m2 Te Rapa site. ATNZ is discribed as the country’s largest employer of apprentices in mechanical engineering and placed Elizabeth and Leilani into the business, adding to the eight apprentices already in place and the two due to start shortly.

Elizabeth Humberstone

Elizabeth says that the only way for the industry to stop being so male-dominated is for more women to join the trade. It’s a sentiment that Leilani echoes.

“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.”

JP Marshall owner Adrian Marshall says training has always been an integral part of the company’s culture and hugely supports women joining the engineering trade.

“From as far back as the 1950s, apprentices have been a key part of our 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.

ATNZ account manager Adrian Gozdz supports Leilani and Elizabeth through their learning and says the different skillsets and talents the women bring to their host company are highly valued.

“The feedback from JPM is very positive. The women’s 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.”

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.”

With less than two years to go until they complete their 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.