Gemma Hartwig is no stranger to hard work. If her upbringing on a farm in south-west Queensland didn’t introduce her to that concept, being a female diesel fitter in a male-dominated trade defintiely did. Now fully qualified and a passionate advocate for women in trades, she plans to inspire other young women to follow in her non-traditional footsteps.
When asked about what lead her into diesel fitting, Gemma will smile and tell you that it seemed natural, really.
“I had considered a hairdressing course, but I decided that wasn’t for me,” recalls Gemma.
“I grew up on the farm with my grandad and great grandad, passing them tools while they fixed machinery, so moving into diesel fitting seemed natural after that.”
At just 14, Gemma began her school-based apprenticeship. Juggling week-long blocks at TAFE Queensland while continuing her senior studies was not easy, but Gemma took it in her stride. Proving herself in the male-dominated industry turned out to be a challenge. But not one that was too big for her and she quickly learned to play to her strengths. Petite Gemma soon found that she was better suited to some jobs than her fellow apprentices, as she was able to squeeze into places the guys just couldn’t reach.
“Being a women was an advantage in some ways, being smaller meant that I did jobs that the guys couldn’t do. But I did have to work hard to prove that I was as capable as the blokes,” said Gemma.
This determination to succeed paid off. In 2014 Gemma was named School-Based Apprentice of the Year at the Queensland Training Awards. After contesting the national award, Gemma was invited to judge at regional training awards and continued to be an advocate for vocational education and training.
Gemma then took out Apprentice of the Year at the Queensland Training Awards in early 2017. She was eager to prove herself at nationals a second time, hoping to take out the top gong.
In true Gemma style she succeeded, and in November was named Apprentice of the Year at the Australian Training Awards in Canberra. Now Gemma plans to leverage her awards connections and aims to one day travel the nation to encourage other young women and girls to take up traditional trades.
“I’d love to be able to travel to schools and tell other girls that might be thinking about doing a trade that there is a place for women in these industries,” said Gemma.
“We need more women in trades and I’d love to encourage more girls to take the plunge.”
Before all this though, Gemma has another goal and in January next year she jets off for her next adventure. She plans to gain experience in diesel fitting around the world, and to prove herself internationally.