Donna Hawkins

Image: Donna Hawkins, a valued participant in the program, is pictured (on the left) with her most recent creation. Additionally, she achieved a recent sale of her sculpture ‘Anglerfish’ (on the right) for $2000.

Trail-blazing women paving the way amid a growing demand for female tradies in the engineering sector.

In an industry dominated by men, a new generation of trailblazing women is emerging, breaking down barriers and paving the way for a more diverse and inclusive engineering workforce. With sparks flying and torches in hand, women in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria are learning the art and science of welding through the Skill Engineer’s Girls of Steel program.

The Skill Engineer Pty Ltd, a social enterprise engaging individuals in economic, social and civic activity, in collaboration with Evero Pty Ltd, a leading steel manufacturer specialising in engineering fabrication is delivering a pioneering program that aims to tackle the ongoing shortage in the engineering sector and foster gender equality in the workplace.

The Girls of Steel program is uniquely designed to empower women to overcome any potential obstacles that might hinder them from pursuing a career in engineering, provide the practical skills in fabrication including machining and welding, and encourage women to thrive in viable industry employment pathways.

Currently, women only hold 1 out of 100 industry trades apprenticeships, and female representation in trades is only 3%. Forty-seven percent of women have left, or have considered leaving their trade due to a lack of respect and harassment in the workplace.

However, the results of a recent 2022 Women in Engineering Research indicate that women who enter the engineering profession, 80% find their work dynamic and impactful, and they believe that they bring a unique perspective to the table.

Donna, who is currently participating in the Girls of Steel program, expresses her enthusiasm for the program with regards to her newly learnt fabrication skills, the camaraderie among participants, the mutual respect they have for one another, and the productivity of the team.

She expressed her delight in having the liberty to create anything she wishes, and has already crafted twelve items, including both structural utility pieces and sculptural works. Despite being diagnosed with level two autism, Donna said she is thriving in the program.

“I’m really grateful to have James as our Apprentice Master in the Girls of Skill program. He’s a huge asset to our team and is always very calm, which creates a really nice environment for us to learn in. I had some prior experience with welding and attended art school back in 2009, but most of my recent skills I have learned through the program.”

“Recently, I completed a project where I made an anglerfish lamp. I find anglerfish to be funny, creepy, and cool creatures, so I thought what better way to showcase them than by creating a lamp. I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdog, and anglerfish definitely fit that bill. They dwell in the deep sea and use light to lure their prey into their mouths.”

“I would like to be employed as a Program Trades Assistant, supporting women to achieve their goals in the program and the industry. I am currently working towards gaining employment in the metals industry, and I love what this program has provided me with.”

“The Girls of Steel program is a gamechanger, empowering young women to pursue their dreams and break down the barriers that prevent them from succeeding in the engineering profession,” said Apprentice Master James Cross for The Skill Engineer.

“The fact that the students are women is fantastic. They come into the workshop and don’t waste time. I show them how to weld and teach them the skills they need to make sculptures. Watching them flourish is a great experience.”

The women in the program are pursuing a Certificate II in Engineering, and are formally assessed by Gimbal Training. The Skill Engineer also offers assistance in helping participants to secure apprenticeships. One of the participants in the current class has already secured an apprenticeship with a local metals and engineering firm and is making impressive strides in her career development.

The Girls of Steel program is supported by the Australian government’s initiatives to increase the participation of girls and women in STEM education and careers, including engineering. The Skill Engineer is a collaboration between industry and community partners to support young female engineers.

For more information about the Girls of Steel program or The Skill Engineer Ltd, please contact Charlotte Dickie Public Relations Manager at The Skill Engineer on 0432 806 041 or