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Alanna Dennien

Interview from July 2020

This article features the talented and persistent, Alanna Dennien!
Alanna is a very accomplished tradeswoman and has won a myriad of awards. In 2019 she won the Komatsu 4th year apprentice of the year for QLD, Komatsu national apprentice of the year, and QLD tradeswoman of the year. She is now a nominee for the 2020 QLD trades awards that are yet to be judged. She is also an active member of the WIMARQ QRC grade 12 girls mentoring program and is passionate about helping other women feel more confident about starting a career in a trade.

“Anyone that really, really wants to do an apprenticeship, be that electrical, auto electrical, mechanical, diesel fitting, if you have a passion and you strive to do that, then just go for it. That's all I can suggest. Don't let anyone talk you out of it. You either will succeed or fail. I believe in sink or swim and honestly, if you want something bad enough, you won't fail. You won't fail.”

You are extremely accomplished in your trade, and you strive to encourage other girls and women into the industry. Tell me about what made you decide to be a diesel fitter, the steps you've taken to get to where you are and what you love about the trade.

So, I worked in the industry for a while and it got to the stage where I was up against people with trades, going for jobs, like maintenance, planning and stuff. So, I realised that I had a lack of education on that behalf. So, for me to do a trade was going to get me the skills that I needed to progress further in my career. So, I pretty much had the decision to do either a trade or an engineering degree. But, you know, to just drop out of work and do an engineering degree, it either takes eight years part time, or you just don't work for four years, which wasn't really realistic. 

So, for me, having the hands-on skill base, that an apprenticeship would give me, was the better option. So, it took me a little while to get an apprenticeship. I started applying when I was one year out of high school, and I think I got an apprenticeship maybe six years later. So, it took me six years to actually get there. But I got there in the end, and I finished last year. 

So, for qualified trades lady, it's been a good journey. During my apprenticeship, I started studying asset and maintenance management through CQUni as well, so I continued that throughout my apprenticeship. Now I've got a graduate diploma as well as a trade and I'm probably going to look at doing my masters sometime in the near future.

Yeah, that's awesome. I had no idea that it had taken you so long to actually find an apprenticeship. How did you keep going? That's a long time to be applying for apprenticeships or trying to look for one? How did you stay motivated?

The one I actually picked up I was very lucky, in a sense, I ended up in the Northern Territory at an iron ore mine and my superintendent at the time was very, very encouraging. I was doing maintenance planning up there and he actually encouraged me to start doing the asset maintenance management course and said, “Look, if an apprenticeship is what you want to do, then you should keep applying and get one because it's four years out of a 40-year career, which is really minimal.” So, I had good encouragement in that sense. 

I'm going to say 2016 When I did get my apprenticeship was when we saw a massive change within the industry to push for more females in the trades. I think prior to that, because of lack of support for females in the industry, it was obviously a lot harder to get an apprenticeship as a female. So yeah, just be consistent. 

Lucky you did because obviously, you're doing a fantastic job now. Could you tell me a bit more about the WMRQ GRC grade 12 Girls mentoring programme? What is it? What do you do with it and how could other people get involved?

Okay, so the grade 12 Girls programme itself, so Women in Mining and Resources Queensland they created a programme for women in the industry. In 2017, I jumped on board and decided that I wanted to do the mentoring programme because I didn't know any other women within the industry to get support off along the way. I was struggling through my apprenticeship, and I found the women in mining and resources mentor programme, so I thought I would jump on board and do that. It was six months all up, I'm pretty sure and they partnered us with another senior woman in the industry. My mentor was actually a dragline operator at one of the coal mines in Queensland, so she was really good to work with.

From that they opened up nominations for the next year they decided that they were going to create a grade 12 Girls mentor programme through QMEA which is the Queensland minerals energy Academy. So, there's schools throughout Queensland that are classified as QMEA schools and they invited girls to apply for mentoring and they asked the mentors or the mentees from the adult programme, if they would step up and be a mentor for the grade 12 Girls programme. 

So, for me to get into that I needed to do the women's programme first. So, two years running now we've had the Grade 12 girls programme. The first year was a massive success, so they decided to run again this year, and they had more funding this year, so we were able to have a lot more females this year than what we did last year. So, with that as well, they have women from all fields within the industry. So, there'll be like human resources, geology, Safety, Environment, engineering, and the trades, there's a massive lack within the trades. 

This year, there was only two of us mentors that were trade based qualification, which most of the girls that were coming through the Grade 12 girls programme had come forth and said that they were interested in actually doing a trade. So yeah, I think next year, there's going to be a big push for trying to get more mentors that are from trade-based backgrounds. But yeah, hopefully it's a bigger programme next year.

It's a massive thing as well, when we went through high school, we didn't have anything like this. I've been out of school 10 years now and I wish that I had something like this when I was grade 12 because I'd probably be a lot further ahead in my career than what I am now, just by having that guidance from the start. So yeah, it's just something that I can pay forward, I suppose and help someone else out, give them a foot up that I didn't have when I was their age. So, it's just good to have the encouragement there, especially in the last year of school.

I'm quite passionate about the term STEAM rather than STEM because I believe the A for arts is critical to enhance innovation and creative designs, you love anything artistic, has your love for the arts helped you during your trade?

It's hard to say because I don't really go around painting things. I think it gives you a different way to look at how to complete jobs, I suppose. It's just using a different part of your brain. Being a female as well, you're up against your weight and your strength, so you often need to find different ways of doing things as opposed to what a man would because of his strength. So, I think in a way, having an artistic background could potentially play into problem solving as well. Just using different skill sets. So yeah, in some way it has. 

I think it comes into play as well, when we are needing to design different ways of doing things or different tooling or gear, I think that can come into play with it as well. It's a good skill to have. 

You don't currently have any kids, but do you feel that having children might affect your career negatively?

Not negatively. I think it would make me look at things a lot differently. To start out with I think it would maybe slow my career down a little bit. But you know, you've got a give and take with family. You change your ways in that you develop new skills, and you look at things differently. I suppose, introducing kids into the scene obviously changes everyone's life, and it's just something that you have to adapt to.

Yeah, definitely. So you said that you think that it might slow your career down a little bit? Do you think it would be the same? If you were a man and having a family? Do you think it would still slow your career down?

No, purely for the fact that, you have to carry a baby for nine months, and then you give birth, and then you obviously have time off to nurture that child. If you are the one that chooses to have the maternity leave, there are options now that the father can have paternity leave, but for females, if you're the one that's choosing to have the maternity leave, like a year or two out of your career, so depending on how many kids you have, that can stack up pretty quickly.

I haven't really heard many stories about what happens during pregnancy. If you're in a trade-based role, I'm pretty sure for your own safety, they could take you straight off the floor and put you in the office. But I don’t think I'd want to be hanging off spanners seven months pregnant anyway.

It's interesting looking at it how children affect your career because children do tend to affect a woman more so than they affect men. 

It is good that there's policies and government initiatives and stuff like that, that help women out there. But I think there's still a lot more support that could be done to help women stay in trade-based roles and stay in STEM careers, because it can be difficult taking that time off, and then trying to integrate back into the workplace.

Especially at the moment, I'm on site, so for me to stop work, and then go have a baby and then try and go back to work, I would either have to have a live in nanny or live very close to the site itself and have day care facilities that would take a child early in the morning, and, you're working 12 hour days, so there's not really opportunities there. 

In some companies to do shift share or part time days, especially once you get up into the management positions, it gets a lot harder. So, that's another thing that comes into play with limiting your career once you have children. It's another thing that females have to think about, once they choose which avenue they want to take.

I spoke to in one of my previous interviews, I spoke to a woman named Carmen and she was the major breadwinner in her family and her husband was actually the stay at home dad. Now he runs a mechanical business from home. So, I think that kind of showed me that you can look at your own family in a different way. Every family is different. Every family dynamic works differently and you know, maybe it could be a case of if the woman's wanting to really progress their career and they're not able to find that support that maybe they can get that support at home and it's all about compromise and finding that support where you can.

Yeah, and that's it, I think it comes back to what you said in your first introduction about just because you have a baby doesn't mean you can't have it all. I believe that you can have it all you just need to have a very supportive partner and family around you that will allow that progression and try and not hold you back.

As this is something that you've actually kind of experienced, what advice would you give women who are weary of completing a trade due to fear of failure or rejection in a male dominated industry? 

“For myself, I think I'm just very persistent and when people say that you can't do something, I'm just like, well stuff you I'm going to show you that I can.”
So just keep going in to prove, and I think with anything in life, if you feel value there, and you don't try, then you'll never know whether you can do it or not. So, yeah, if you just give it a go pretty much as all I can say.

Yeah, I've had a few people in previous interviews say the same thing. Just give it a go. If it's something that you're interested in, and you're passionate about, and you enjoy doing, just go for it.

Through my years within mining and expressing my interest in apprenticeships, I had a lot of people try and talk me out of it. You know, it's dirty, it's hot, it's sweaty, it's heavy, your hair will always be dirty, you'll get grease on your face. 
“A lot of people tried to talk me out of it over the years and I just thought, you know, at the end of the day, yeah, it is hot and sweaty and dirty, but I'm getting something out of it. You're learning something in the process. Every day is different. You can always have a shower and wash the grease and dirt off. Yeah, just don't let anyone talk you out of it.”
Yeah, definitely. I had done an interview with one of my friends, Taylah, and she said the same thing that she was working for a company that wouldn't give apprenticeships to females because, like you said, it's dirty and it's sweaty and you won't like it. But who says that women don't like getting dirty? This stereotype that women are afraid to get covered in grease is clearly very wrong.

The funny thing with that is I actually did work for that company, as a female trades person. So for them to turn around say that is very disheartening.

I actually listened to your interview with Taylah yesterday and after I listened to it, I was just so angry. I sent her a message and I'm like, I'm so sorry that this has happened to you. If an apprenticeship is what you want to do, then you need to find one and go for it and don't let anyone talk you out of it because you just holding yourself back if you keep listening to other people's negativity, pretty much.

Yeah, that's exactly right. And everyone's going to have an opinion and it's up to you whether or not you want to listen to that opinion, or ignore that opinion or learn from it. It's completely up to you, you can just ignore anything negative.

Yeah, and that's the thing, people are quick to jump at conclusions as to why you're doing an apprenticeship. I had a lot of negativity through my apprenticeship, people saying that this is all for show, you're not going to finish it, you're not going to do it. After you finish your apprenticeship, you're just going to go straight back into the office, and no one had actually taken the time to even ask me why I wanted to do an apprenticeship. 

I put someone up on there and I'm like, you know, it's so quick for everyone to judge me from my looks and you know, being a female in the industry, but no one's actually asked me why I want to do it. There's a reason why I want to do a four-year apprenticeship and it's to progress my career to somewhere I want to end up. I don't just do things for nothing. So yeah, I think in that sense as well, Taylah has every right to do an apprenticeship and if she wants to do an apprenticeship, she can do an apprenticeship. It's like anyone, anyone that has a job. 
“If you want to be a hairdresser, or if you want to work at a supermarket or if you want to be a diesel fitter, you have every right to be whatever you want to be.”
And it is hot and sweaty and dirty and whatever else people say that it is but it's also really, really interesting. You're always learning something different. Every day is always a different challenge. You're always using your brain. So yeah, it's actually a really interesting job. It's challenging at times, but it's rewarding. 

And, honestly, who doesn't like getting a bit greasy every now and then? That's half the fun, isn't it getting? getting in and getting your hands dirty? 

Let's see my two brothers. They're also diesel fitters and when I came home and said that I got an apprenticeship this time around and one said, “You realise you're going to have to shave your head, right? You're going to get grease in your hair. And that's hard to get out.”

Well, you haven't had to shave your head so how do you get the grease out of your hair?

You just don't put your head in greasy spots. I'm like, seriously, if you're getting it in your hair, you probably shouldn't be in there. Like obviously, there's times where you have to squeeze into places but you don't rub your face and your head in the grease. It's just being smart, “alright, yeah, use your head… use your head and mop up the dirt!”

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