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Power and passion

Ashley Hammond, NECA Apprentice of the Year 2016

NECA’s Apprentice of the Year in the Commercial/Domestic Category, Ashley Hammond, spoke with Alison Aprhys about her career so far and life as a female electrician.

When Ashley Hammond’s boss told her he was going to enter her in the NECA Apprentice of the Year awards, the 27-year-old admitted she had not even heard about the competition.

But while the awards may not have been on her radar, a passion for all things electrical had. Ashley’s knowledge, expertise, approach and professional attitude to her studies and work saw her beat a cohort of similarly talented apprentices to take out first place in the Commercial / Domestic category, including her Appselec Pty Ltd colleague, Dale Horne, who took second place.

“When he told me about the awards, I went online to research them,” she said with a smile.
“As part of the entry I had to write an essay on my future ambitions as an electrician. I thought ‘I’ve just qualified and this was my ambition to date’, then suddenly I was on stage winning the award and thinking ‘how did my life take such a spin?”

Sparking a career

Ashley, who qualified in March this year, may have come late to her apprenticeship but she’s more than made up for time with her determined and capable approach. She said there was never any question that she could study a trade once her mind was made up.

“All the males in my family are tradespeople and I used to help out my dad who was a bricklayer, to earn extra money for Christmas. At first I was tossing up between joining the police or going to university and being a PE teacher, because I definitely did not want a 9–5 office job.”

However, it was not until she was traveling in the UK several years ago, that Ashley was inspired to take up the tools.

“I did not know what I wanted to do, so went traveling to England to work out what career I wanted and came back determined to be an electrician. Doing a licensed trade appealed as I like to be self-dependent, so I sat down and thought about what I could do as a female, and I tossed up between plumbing and electrical work.”

Once the decision was made, Ashley undertook a pre-apprenticeship course at Chisholm TAFE.

“But I found it difficult to get a job, so then I went through group training through NECA,” she said. “The practical training was great and all the course work was interesting.”

About halfway through her time, Ashley realised she loved the challenges of working out how to solve problems and create strong solutions.

“I realised towards halfway through my apprenticeship I liked being in charge and the decision-making process. My favourite part was my foreman giving me the push to take control of a job, which is not about getting thrown into a situation, it’s all about having the confidence.”

It’s a quality Ashley has developed on her journey from her pre-apprenticeship days through to qualifying as an electrician, and working for an electrical contractor on the new Epworth Hospital in Geelong.

“It was a big build with over 700 tradespeople on site and I was surprised with how well everyone got along, there was a real comradery. There were multiple different trades all working together and I think I was surprised how well everyone got along and everything was aligned so well.”

While being used to working with other female tradies, including two at her current employer and others during her apprenticeship, Ashley said at the Epworth site, it was interesting when other workers were interested in learning why she chose to be an electrician.

It was such a big building site and I was surprised with how much people wanted to speak with me about my story, about being a female apprentice, and then when they find out we have twin daughters, how you balance your life. Because for me my life seems completely normal,”

Ashley said apart her early difficulty in securing an apprenticeship, she’s been treated very well in the profession.

“My experiences as a female tradie to date has been very positive.”

Around five months into her training, Ashley and her fiancé, Nick, now a fourth-year electrical apprentice, found out they were to be parents, so she took a year off her course after the birth of her daughters. The pair who met playing hockey seven years ago, happily juggle family life with work and study and plan to marry in November.

“Nick and I have been together since I was 20 and he proposed to me in Paris on the top of the Eiffel tower, and now we are in the same profession as he wanted a change of career.”

On her return from maternity leave, Ashley changed firms and moved into working in the commercial electrical area.

“I was at the Epworth from March 2015 until June 2016, in charge of all the wiring for the new pathology unit. I enjoy the freedom and the lifestyle and not being cooped up inside all day, while I still have my boss, but I do my work and report back, so you have a bit more freedom.”

Ashley said it’s a privilege to have clients trust in her professional skills.

“The thought that if I make a mistake it could potentially harm someone else keeps me focused in doing my job. Clients don’t know the fundamentals, but they do know electricity is hazardous and they rely on you, so I always aim to do a good job.”

Ashley credits her parents for instilling in her a can-do attitude.

“I’m the first girl in my family to do a trade and my mum loves the fact I’m an electrician. She’s the most the proud, she talks me up like I’m a doctor.”

Ashley said she’s already planning the next stage of her electrical career.

“As of last year I did not know this award existed, but in the way everything is moving it’s made me think about the future more. It’s empowering and I feel like new doors can open, I don’t know to what, but I believe in being open to opportunities, putting my head down and my thinking cap on.”