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International student breaks social norms and gender barriers to build her career brick-by-brick

Mandeep Kaur is an Indian international student-turned-tradie in Melbourne. Source: Supplied by Melbourne Polytechnic

Mandeep Kaur is one of the very few female international students, especially from India, to take up trades as a career in Australia. After entering the male-dominated construction industry, she urges more women to trust their mental and physical strengths.

Mandeep Kaur, 24, has faced many challenges at a young age and persevered to become a qualified bricklayer.

One of them was convincing not only others but also herself that she could break the gender stereotype around women being unsuitable for the male-dominated construction industry.


Highlights:

  • Mandeep Kaur is a Melbourne-based bricklayer, wanted to be IT professional
  • She migrated to Australia from India as an international student in 2018 
  • Ms Kaur wants to see more women i

“I'd often hear that this is not a ‘women's-type of a career'. Or, that it is physically very demanding and I’m not strong enough to be in trades. Such comments made me doubt my abilities,” Ms Kaur told SBS Punjabi.

“It’s never been easy as a woman to pursue a career in a male-dominated trade. But here I am to prove the odds as it gives me immense satisfaction to do what people say I can’t,” she added.

 Mandeep Kaur opted for a career in bricklaying after she struggled to secure a job during the pandemic
Mandeep Kaur opted for a career in bricklaying after she struggled to secure a job during the pandemic.
Supplied by Melbourne Polytechnic

From building bits and bytes to constructing buildings

Ms Kaur came to Australia as an international student from of Punjab in 2018.

She has a bachelor’s degree in IT from India and had opted for an advanced course in the same stream in Melbourne.

“I never thought that my career would take such a huge turn. After COVID-19 hit, there weren’t many opportunities to secure employment with companies,” she said.

Given her circumstances and financial insecurity, Ms Kaur decided to take a new career path, totally unrelated to her initial goals – a big transition from IT to bricklaying.

Mr Kaur said that her friend’s husband, also a bricklayer, encouraged her to pursue a trades course in bricklaying.

“I was made aware that tradespeople are rarely out of a job. So, with my friend’s input, I decided to take up this challenging opportunity,” she adds.

Ms Kaur finally enrolled in Melbourne Polytechnic’s Certificate III in Bricklaying and Blocklaying in mid-2020.

To her astonishment, she was the only female student in the course.

Ms Kaur says that the encouragement from her teachers, instructors and fellow students helped her realise that “it’s just another job” that women can also do.

“It was the support from my TAFE teachers and my family that pushed me to keep trying and reinforced the belief in me that as a woman, I can do this,” she said.

Leading from the front

Michael Morrissey, CEO of the Australian Brick and Blocklaying Training Foundation Ltd (ABBTF) said that for women in trades, it can be incredibly challenging to overcome prejudice in the industry.

“It’s part of our mission to support women who are entering the trade to secure employment and be afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts,” Mr Morrissey said.

“Mandeep is contributing to paving a future of more female representation in bricklaying. She is an exceptional example to other women who are wanting to pursue a career in trades,” he added.

Mandeep Kaur had to change her career path from IT to trades due to COVID-19.
Mandeep Kaur had to change her career path from IT to trades due to COVID-19.
Supplied by Melbourne Polytechnic

Lucky to be in Australia

Ms Kaur said although she couldn’t pursue her goal of becoming an IT professional, yet she feels lucky to have enough opportunities in Australia.

“It was definitely a different experience but there was nothing awkward about it. This is the beauty of this country that people value you and your work.

“I’ve also seen that it doesn’t matter if you are in a white-collar job or you do physical work, you get equal respect,” she added.

More power to women in trade

After cementing her future as a certified bricklayer, Ms Kaur now wants to encourage more women to pursue trades.

“There’s been a shift in thinking when it comes to gender-defined roles that anything a man can do, a woman too can,” she said.

“It is only possible, if you overcome your own mental barriers, go beyond social norms and commit to doing the trades-related physical work,” Ms Kaur added.

Click this audio button to listen to Ms Kaur's full interview in Punjabi. 

International student breaks social norms and gender barriers to build her career brick-by-brick
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