Electrotechnology graduate Emily reflects on a path less travelled

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2022 and this year’s theme #BreakTheBias, Kangan Institute reflects on how an education at TAFE has enabled many women to transform their lives, explore unchartered turf and redefine success.

This includes mother-of-two Emily Waras who works as a full-time electrical carriage maintainer for Alstom V/Line Maintenance. Her role involves maintaining, repairing and modifying all electrical components on V/Line fleet passenger trains.

“I love learning about how things work, working on faults and understanding complex machinery and control equipment,” she said.

“I love my job and I can’t picture myself doing anything else. I think, as any full time working parent, you miss your kids and wish you could be with them more. (But) I work a very good roster and am able to be with my kids more than 50% of the year.”

Her journey to becoming an electrician was somewhat unconventional – Ms Waras discovered that she was pregnant midway through her Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician (UEE30811) apprenticeship at Kangan Institute, which meant training adjustments followed by navigating a return to the industry as a new mum.

“Kangan was an amazing support during my pregnancy. I was able to work with my teachers on when I could come in for exams or make arrangements that supported me,” she said.

“I took six months off as part of maternity leave and that put me six months behind everyone else at my stage. When I returned, I commenced double the studies that most normal apprentices do and I studied an extra day a week. Once I finished that, I started night school for a post-trade certificate.”

Ms Waras’ commitment to success paid off – she completed her apprenticeship in 2019 and clinched Kangan Institute’s Apprentice of the Year accolade. A year after, she was named Blackwood's Tradie of the Year and won a $5,000 toolbox.

Emily Waras with the toolbox she won as Blackwood’s Apprentice of the Year

With an established career under her belt, Ms Waras is committed to inspiring other young women to #breakthebias and works with Tradeswomen Australia as a mentor for new apprentices. She also shares her experience as a tradeswoman through guest speaking opportunities.

“In March 2020 I was a spokesperson for International Women's Day and spoke at the Apprenticeship Group Australia’s Try A Trade Day for high school aged girls. I was 39 weeks pregnant but it was important for me to show young girls that a tradeswoman can also have a family and other aspirations in life,” she said.

Reflecting on challenges of being a working mum and a tradeswoman, Ms Waras said it was time to look beyond gender.

“Every career has its challenges and working a trade is no different. With the support of my union and my fellow electricians, I've been able to overcome some challenges within the workplace. While there can be obstacles entering a male dominated industry, our gender is not relevant in how well we do our job. I know I am respected and held to the same standards as any other electrician,” she said.

“I often point out that no one asks working dads how they manage work and parenting – it is essentially no different (from working mums). The only difference was that both my children were fully breastfed and I needed time to pump (breastmilk) during work.”

Her message for other women keen on a career in trades? Seize the moment.

“If you find yourself interested in learning about a trade, don't ignore that. Whether you pursue a career or not, time will still pass – decide how you want to spend that time,” said Ms Waras.

Kangan Institute is celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March 2022 through a virtual panel discussion themed #BreakTheBias for students and staff.

Led by Kangan Institute’s Chief Executive Officer Sally Curtain and Chief of Industry Engagement and Education Delivery Janelle Arena, the panel will also include the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s Community Representative Commissioner Abiola Akinbiyi and the 2021 7News Young Achievers Awards’ Inspirational Student of the Year Diyana Habeeb, who is also a Kangan Institute graduate.

Ms Curtain said International Women’s Day was an opportunity to celebrate success, inspire students and staff, and reflect on the vital role of education in supporting women to achieve new heights.

“International Women’s Day is chance for us to recognise the achievements of our staff and students who are breaking the bias and exceeding expectations every day,” she said.

“As an organisation with many female leaders within our Board and Executive Team, Kangan Institute is passionate about inspiring women to be anywhere they’d like to be in their life and career.

“In 2021, Kangan Institute supported more than 3,900 female students to improve their lives and pursue success through education. Of these, more than 350 female students chose to study courses within our trades and automotive disciplines – a 32% increase compared to five years ago – and challenging any gender bias or stereotypes that may still exist about these traditionally male-dominated industries.

“Kangan Institute is proud of the key role that it plays – and continues to play – in empowering women with the qualifications, skills and confidence to thrive in their chosen path.”

About Kangan Institute

Kangan Institute is a division of Bendigo Kangan Institute, one of Australia’s largest TAFE providers. Through campuses in Broadmeadows, Docklands, Cremorne, Moonee Ponds and Essendon, Kangan Institute provides training services to students, industries and businesses throughout metropolitan Melbourne and beyond.

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