By: Clinton Llewellyn

Apprentice Shontae Ellmers with her colleagues (back, from right) mechanic Melissa Chapman, co-owner Karen Wilson and office administrator Catherine Hobbs-Turner.

There is no such thing as a “man’s job” at Shontae Ellmers’ new workplace.

Aided by a recent $300 grant from local Freemasons, the 17-year-old officially started as an apprentice mechanic at Autotech Waipukurau last week.

And while a female apprentice might not be such a rarity these days, Shontae’s workplace is a rare, small-scale example of gender parity in what continues to be a male-dominated industry.

Fifty per cent of all paid staff at the family-owned automotive service and repair centre are female.

Working alongside Shontae is qualified mechanic Melissa Chapman, whose mum and co-owner Karen Wilson sits next to husband Garry in the office, where Catherine Hobbs-Turner works as the administration officer.

Shontae started doing work experience at the garage one day a week last year as a Year 12 student through CHB College’s employment Gateway programme.

After picking up some paid work during the school holidays, she decided not to return to finish school but instead embarked on a five-year apprenticeship through the industry body, MITO.

“To begin with, it took me while to grow into it and start really enjoying it. Now, I enjoy all of it,” Shontae said.

She had found it quite good to be able to work alongside and learn from a qualified female mechanic in Melissa, who had already taught her a few good lessons.

“We may do it in different ways, but we all get there in the end, in our own way. And not to let a man tell you how to do something, or take over doing a job for you. We can do everything ourselves,” Shontae said.

Melissa spent a year studying at EIT after leaving school. But, perhaps with grime and grease in her blood, soon realised she wanted to pursue her passion.

“I’ve wanted to do this [be mechanic] since I was 10 years old,” said Melissa, who deliberately completed her apprenticeship away from her father, Garry, who worked at the Waipukurau garage for 30 years before taking it over with wife Karen in 2014.

Melissa said she was often the only female mechanic at industry training courses and, aside from Shontae, did not know of any other female mechanics.

With qualifications and years of training, Melissa admitted she was frustrated at the outdated attitudes of some people.

“Sometimes a customer would ring up and say ‘Are you a mechanic’ or ask to speak to a man. It did get a bit annoying after a few years.”

Owner Karen Wilson said she and husband Garry had often used the college’s Gateway programme to find potential apprentices and, while not all of them had worked out, she was pleased to say Shontae had been taken on based on her merits.

“She’s got everything you could want in an apprentice and as an employee. She made the decision, it was something she wanted to continue with and we went from there, and we are signing her up,” she said.

Shontae is among a falling number of female apprentices, according to Josh Williams, chief executive of the Industry Training Federation, which represents New Zealand’s 11 industry training organisations.

“Only 11 per cent of apprentices were female in 2016, and this proportion has actually declined very slightly over the past three to four years, since the areas where apprenticeships have been growing most quickly, such as construction, are male-dominated,” he said.

The automotive industry was one where they were attempting to increase the numbers of women undertaking apprenticeships through campaigns such as Got A Trade? Got It Made!, showcasing young women who were experiencing success in what had been traditionally male-dominated areas.

“For us, that’s about making sure young Kiwi women know that they should apply, that there is no such thing as men’s jobs or women’s jobs, and they should go for it,” he said.

To help her buck the trend in the male-dominated industry, Shontae recently received a prize given to commemorate the 300-year tercentenary of the formation of Freemasonry in London, England, in 1717.

Freemasons from two Central Hawkes Bay lodges, Woburn Lodge No 25 in Waipukurau and the Lion Lodge No 114 in Ormondville, presented Shontae with $300 to help her purchase tools and other items for her future career.

Information on apprenticeships is at

Source: Hawke’s Bay Today


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