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The three words I would use to describe Destination Trades are fierce, resilient and capable, with the entire founding team having all of these traits in spades (if you’ll excuse the pun).

We met Destination Trades when they applied for Launchpad Work, Ākina’s accelerator for social enterprises who are helping those who face barriers to employment. Right from the get go this team has always been a force to be reckoned with, constantly seeking answers from us, while always being up for any challenges we posed them. This may be partly down to their experience, and partly down to the clear vision they all share for what they are doing and, most importantly, why.  Destination Trades are looking to increase women’s participation in the male dominated, well paid, and high demand trades industry, and they are looking to accelerate their activity towards achieving this goal.

Destination Trades was founded by Christina Rogstad, Veronica White and Owen Lingard in August 2016. Christina and Veronica are both from corporate backgrounds, and Owen is a qualified Electrician with a passion for teaching. A pretty good founding combination to see their goal become reality.

And they are doing this by running 8 – 10 week programmes for women, and only women, to get them ready to take the next step towards working and flourishing in a variety of trades. This is preparation for careers which women have previously been told, and most believed were, off limits. The program focuses on developing the skills, attitudes and mindsets to be successful and comfortable in these male-dominated environments.

What Destination Trades is doing is different. They are outside the system and purposefully taking a very different approach. The fact is the existing model of long term training before entering a trade is not working for Industry and it is not working for women. Some of the students who enrolled in this programme had never even picked up a hammer before they started, but just because they haven’t picked up a hammer doesn’t mean they are unsuitable for a career in trades. And as Destination Trades are already discovering, once their students get familiar with these tools and build some basic skills and confidence, new careers for them, and new futures for their families, suddenly are not only possible but right in front of them. The impact of the programme is life changing.

Across the programme the women are empowered to learn not only the fundamental skills of a variety of trades, but also supported through the lifestyle change that many face going from other types of employment, or from being unemployed, into the trades. Then, with this knowledge, they can make an informed decision about which industry they may like to work in. And as we have seen even in these early days some students receive job offers before the end of the program.

As we all know  there is a crisis level skills shortage in trades in New Zealand. 50,000 new tradespeople are needed now and that is only going to get worse as the Baby Boomers retire in big numbers in the coming years . There are 130,000 women seeking employment. And yet, the number of women in trades has not increased from 2% since 1972. Have a conversation with the Destination Trades team though, and you’ll start to think this number is about to change.

Of the 20 students that started their first 10 week course, 3 received job offers before the program had even finished. Several others got work placements. And all received first hand practical experience from a variety of industry experts. Prior to the program, none had experience in the trades industry.

After such a strong start, the Destination Trades founders are now well into planning their next program, whilst also beginning to amplify the discussion around this problem within the industry, as they are the first to admit they cannot solve this problem on their own. Instead the team are working more and more with various industry partners to ensure that everyone is aware of the opportunities, and are beginning to take active steps to correct the imbalance.

One example of this was Gerard Roofs, providers of pressed steel roofing which requires a high attention to detail to do well. Gerard Roofs worked with the Destination Trades students to show them how to roof a gazebo they’d made throughout the course. The result? 1) Gerard were extremely impressed in how quickly the students picked up the skill, 2) despite it’s challenges (working at heights and physical work), many of the students are now looking for a career in roofing, and 3) one of the students was actually offered a full time role with Aspect Roofing, one of Gerard’s Distributors following this session. A pretty good outcome from a few hours of a business’s time, and an outcome that the Destination Trades team want to replicate with other Industry players.

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But through all this, it’s important to remember that Destination Trades are a fresh eyed start up, despite what their results may lead you to think. And accordingly they’ve learnt a lot, and are iterating future programs because of this. A simple example is the timing of their course. Initially they made the days 9am to 2.30pm so that it would be easier on the women who are  mothers. They discovered, however, that this just delayed the inevitable challenge of adjusting to work when they got a job, and thus didn’t prepare them for work as well as they could. Because of this the days are now 8am-4pm to better reflect working life, and the tutors help the women make the  transition to work ready throughout the course, not just at the end.

Destination Trades have trademarked themselves as an extremely competent team with an ambitious list of goals. Through Launchpad Work we will be helping them accelerate towards these goals in a variety of ways, including connecting them with industry experts, brokering support, and providing them with mentors and tailored business support through an Ākina Venture Manager.

Watch this space. And the 2% figure. With a bit of support from industry, this team could go a long way to changing the lives of many women by getting more doing great work in these trades.