Donna Hawkins

Sarah Zemek, a mother of three from the Central Coast, has recently graduated from The Skill Engineer Ltd.’s Girls of Steel program with a Certificate II in Engineering. The initiative allows participants to craft bespoke metal items and combines engineering principles, welding, and theoretical skills into a dynamic program.

Driven by her passion for welding and encouraged by her children, Sarah enrolled in the course. “My kids recognise my love for creating, and after dedicating 17 years to raising them and supporting the school community, they encouraged me to invest in myself and apply.”

“At first, I felt overwhelmed. It had been years since I’d had any formal training, and walking into the workshop, I realised I needed to familiarise myself with a range of tools and dive into theoretical studies.”

“Turning to Pinterest for inspiration, I began with a basic metal desk organiser to get comfortable with the tools. Before long, I was crafting everything from furniture pieces to table tops and even a holder for my dad’s tools and artefacts.”

Tailored for women aged 17 and above aspiring to enter non-traditional trades like fitting and turning, sheet metal fabrication, welding, diesel, mechanical, or electrical fitting, the Girls of Steel program spans 40-weeks in Kariong on the Central Coast.

Its primary objective is to tackle the skills shortage and under-representation of women in STEM fields, with a particular emphasis on creating apprenticeship opportunities. Currently, women comprise less than 15% of qualified individuals in Australia in science, technology, engineering, and math, and ongoing gender pay gaps compared to their male counterparts.

“There is stubbornly low representation of women in apprenticeships in the STEM sector,”” says Maggie MacFie, Chief Executive Officer of the Skill Engineer Ltd. 

“Women’s unique perspectives and creative approaches in engineering can drive innovation in STEM. Boosting female representation in the field taps into a broader talent pool, fostering inclusivity and equity in the workforce, and improving the expertise of engineering enterprises.”

Supported by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Office for Women, the program has achieved huge success, with over 40 women graduates entering apprenticeships, full-time and part-time employment, and alternate training positions. 

External educators such as Gimbal Training provide theoretical instruction, complemented by mentorship from an apprentice master and industry experts. The program also offers additional tickets including ForkLift and White Card.

Metals and engineering employers further support participants, providing potential employment pathways during and after the program.

The program also offers comprehensive pastoral care, including wellbeing support and mentoring. Ms MacFie acknowledges that participants may have family commitments and children, with some facing challenges such as unstable housing, low literacy, limited job opportunities, disabilities, and experiences with substance abuse and domestic violence.

“Mentorship and support networks play a crucial role in empowering women in male-dominated industries. We provide mentors who offer guidance, share experiences, and assist in navigating the challenges of the industry.”

“Additionally, we offer support networks that provide a safe space for sharing insights, resources, and opportunities. These connections offer encouragement, build confidence and enhance resilience among female participants.”

The Girls of Steel program is set to resume in April 2024, welcoming new applicants for a Certificate II in Engineering. For further details, or to contact the Skill Engineer Ltd. visit 


For media enquiries, please contact Charlotte Dickie at 

The Skill Engineer Ltd. is a non-profit organisation offering programs in Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia. We connect individuals with employment, training, and education while partnering with service providers to overcome barriers to social inclusion. 

Additionally, we promote gender equality, provide disability advocacy, and offer opportunities for First Nations people. As a social enterprise, we engage individuals in economic, social, and civic activities to drive positive change.