By James Bowen, Wednesday 05 October 2005

CEN continues its series of interviews with winners of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Awards. Today we profile Jayme-Lee Cooney, who received the RMIT Award for Outstanding Achievement by a Practising Tradesperson for her work with O’Beachy Designs.

Question: Briefly describe your time in the construction industry, including how you got involved, the roles you have performed and why you chose to enter the industry?

Answer: I am only 21-years old so I am really a young, new member of the construction industry. I started my apprenticeship in cabinet making with Wattle Valley Kitchens at the age of 15 after completing a two-week work experience program. 

The two weeks were a great success and I was asked to stay on and commence an apprenticeship. Wattle Valley Kitchens was a small company, which enabled me to learn all aspects of a kitchen and cabinet making business, from design to installation, which I loved. 

I chose the construction industry because I like to visualise, design and have an ability to build. I found entering the construction industry was a given pathway into my professional life. It’s what I loved to do as a kid and now as an adult, in partnership with my clients, I design, shape and manufacture various textures and materials as my livelihood.

Q: What have been the main achievements so far in your career?

A: My main achievements are all relative to what we celebrate, but for me, entering a TAFE College being the only girl in a class of 20-plus guys was a real challenge. To complete the schooling part of my apprenticeship a year early was my first significant achievement. 

The second was my NAWIC award in 2004 for Apprentice of the Year; the third was starting and now running my own business and then of course my latest NAWIC Award, Outstanding Practicing Tradesperson of the Year.

Q: What are the unique traits you bring to the job?

A: I love unusual design, and in my kitchens I support my clients in achieving their vision, so credibility and genuineness are a must. I love a chat so am able to explore and reassure my customer in conversation, and I go the extra mile, always determined to complete the task on time and true to my word.

Q: If you were recommending work in the construction industry to a school student, what would you list as the three best or most interesting things about working in the industry?

A: The three best/most interesting aspects of this industry is the capacity for autonomy, creativity and opportunity to explore your own ideas. My career goals over the next 10 years are one, continue to design and provide ‘one off’ kitchens. I want to work collaboratively with architects in design and construction and hope to maintain and grow a unique business, moving into design and project management, while always maintaining some hands on. I have worked hard to establish a lifestyle. One off, fashion statement kitchens, this is what I hope to be well known for.

Q: What are your aspirations or career goals for the next 10 years?

A: Architecturally designed award-winning constructions have inspired me to look beyond conventional styles and create very individual pieces.

Q: Who is your biggest inspiration in the construction industry?

A: Shane Kenny, an independent builder who designs and constructs cultural and community housing, has inspired me to really listen to what my clients want. 

Shane has great experience and completed many unusual constructions, all culturally specific, and he has built housing with and for remote Aboriginal communities, instigated estranged youth building projects and worked with a Mongolian village to create safe housing. 

He has recently completed an adobe mud brick building at Odyssey House Victoria and is currently project-managing in the Torres Strait Islands.

Q: What more could be done to encourage women to enter the construction industry?

A: To encourage women entering the industry, it must begin in the initial marketing through schools and early training schemes. It’s not encouraged when young females enquire about apprenticeship opportunities. Promotion and introduction of opportunities are keys to begin to inform young women and encourage them through opportunity to enter the industry.