When Wai-iti Engineering boss David Leary hired a young female apprentice a lot of people in the industry thought he was mad.
Engineering was considered to be a man’s job but David was confident that Wakefield’s Alice Stratford would make the grade. And he was right.
Over the last 10 years Alice, 30, has become a key member of the team at Wai-iti Engineering, gaining her toolmaker’s apprenticeship and this year passing the advanced level-five maintenance and diagnostic qualification. David already knew Alice was a top-class engineer and last Monday that was made official when she was named as the top apprentice at the Nelson Regional Industry Training graduation ceremony at Annesbrooke Church.
‘‘I was looking for a toolmaker and couldn’t find anyone suitable so I said to my wife (Barbara) ‘I’ll give Alice a go’,’’ David recalled. ‘‘I knew her father and I knew she’d work really hard to prove that she could be a better engineer than the men.
‘‘I also thought that, being a woman, she’d show attention to detail which is so important in engineering. But I told her ‘don’t come here unless you are prepared to learn about computers’ and she said ‘when can I start’.’’
Alice has repaid David’s faith in her with dedicated service over the last decade, even returning to work a few months after the birth of her two children, Georgia, four, and Nathaniel, 14 months. In fact Alice is such a valued staff member David added a children’s nursery to the workshop while Barbara is the resident babysitter.
However, Alice said becoming an engineer wasn’t easy. After completing a basic mechanical engineering studies course at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology she almost gave up hope of getting an apprenticeship.
‘‘After doing the course I was sold on engineering but it took a long time to find someone to give me the opportunity to do an apprenticeship. I guess it was partly because I was a girl and also jobs were tight.
‘‘I was so grateful when Dave took me on. They have been so supportive all the way through.’’
Now Alice is regarded as one of the boys at Wai-Iti Engineering and if she does get any stick from her three male colleagues, David, Kyle Osborne and Matt Morgan, she ‘‘just gives it straight back’’.
Alice was one of 90 apprentices graduating at Monday’s ceremony attended by Tasman district Mayor Richard Kempthorne. Richard said making a commitment to upskill within their chosen industry was one of the most important things workers could do for themselves and their community. He said he admired Alice for the way she had juggled family, work and ‘‘a significant amount of training’’ to come through with her qualification, putting back what she had learned into the business.