A highly decorated career
Fiona Shewring is someone who believes passionately in vocational education and training (VET) and getting more women into trades. A painter and decorator teacher at the TAFE NSW - Illawarra Institute, her commitment to education and volunteer work has earned her multiple awards including the Institute for Trade Skills Excellence 2007 Australian Trade Teacher of the Year Award, the 2012 100 Women of Influence finalist Award, and the 2016 HIA Constructive Woman of the Year Award—to name but a few. She is also the founder, president and driving force behind the not-for-profit incorporated organisation, SALT—Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen.
Fiona started her trade almost by accident more than 20 years ago. “I was a potter previously—and I just really enjoy painting and decorating,” she said. As a single mum with five small children to support, she experienced first-hand the challenges and pitfalls of being a trailblazer in a male dominated industry. As someone who is dedicated to helping and supporting others, she founded SALT as a means of easing the pathway for other women into the trades.
“I believe passionately in vocational education and training, or VET, supporting people who don’t normally have the opportunity to go into an apprenticeship and helping those that struggle to get into this career pathway,” said Fiona.
“What many people don’t realise is the huge diversity of careers offered through VET, the flexibility that exists, and the opportunity to forge your own destiny. Invariably what happens when I’ve run workshops for women is that, even if the women are in the same trade, they’ve all come through different pathways and had different stories to tell.
“For instance, I learnt my trade as a mature person juggling studies and motherhood, whereas one of the women in my workshop was starting out at the age of 16. With apprenticeships there are no limits, no barriers and a multitude of choices—if you have the desire, the commitment, and love working with your hands you are well on the road to a successful future.”
A frustration for anyone who is a champion of VET like Fiona is the failure by many people to acknowledge a trade as a first class career option.
“Time and again, I’ve seen that VET-trained graduates have an employment edge over their university-trained peers,” said Fiona. “This is because they are work ready with industry-relevant skills thanks to the hands-on, practical training they’ve received and real or simulated work environments many have trained in, as opposed to the theoretical book learning which occurs at university.
“Another consideration for choosing VET over, say, university learning is the excellent earning potential a career in the trades offers,” said Fiona. “I’ve experienced both sides of the coin, and as someone who has a university degree I can tell you I have earned more money through having a trade qualification. An electrician on a fly-in fly-out arrangement can earn enough money to set themselves up for life and many of my students have gone on to have their own business. As long as you’re prepared to work hard and set your sights high, the sky is the limit.”
Book a VET Alumni member
To invite Fi to share her success story at your event please contact VETAlumni@education.gov.au.