Mandy helps secondary students take their next steps after leaving school. Previously, she worked in construction as a tradesperson and in aviation as a helicopter pilot.
What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?
Lots of meetings, emails, and connecting people. I drink too much coffee as most people choose to meet in one of Wellington’s fabulous cafés!
I work across the community; students, teachers, course providers, Councils, youth organisations, government departments and businesses. An average day would see me connecting with anyone in that list with a view to finding opportunity for students which relates to career pathways, transition into training and/or employment.
What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?
At school I studied English, Maths, Biology, Art History, French and History and took Typing in my final year, as my French was less than adequate. My favourite subject was Art History and I am still interested in it now.
I completed an Apprenticeship in Tiling, starting at 23 years of age which was quite old to start one back then, unlike today. Over the course of three years while working in my business as a tiler, I also studied and achieved my CPL – Commercial Helicopter Licence.
After 21 years in the building industry I had my start in the education sector as a Trades Tutor at Weltec in Petone and did a Diploma in Tertiary Teaching while working, at the same time also studying a Diploma in Construction Management.
Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?
Studying how to fly a helicopter does not directly relate to work as a public servant in education! However, the life skills I gained from working across aviation and construction set me up for the role in education I have now. I am confident, am agile enough to adapt to new and changing environments and all of this comes from a lifetime of pushing my limits and doing what I enjoy.
As a good communicator, a lot of my role involves building and maintaining relationships. I work a lot in the vocational education space. Examples I use in conversations about vocational education relate to construction or infrastructure, as that is the language and context I am most comfortable in.
I have spent a LOT of time renovating homes and enjoy making things. I use maths, science, trigonometry and geometry all the time for this. Physics was hugely important when learning to fly.
I could definitely have had a career in construction management and in flying but did start both of these much later in my working life which led to a decision not to pursue either. I do regret not pursuing construction management as I think my background and personality would have been a good fit and that I would have enjoyed it.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?
Know that many opportunities leading to your chosen career exist, are possible, and are easy to attain if you have passion, drive, a good work ethic and the confidence to approach and ask for it.
Firstly, do some personality profiling on yourself and know your strengths. Look at every sector – explore every option and seek out help, ask questions, visit websites and don’t limit yourself to what others think you should do. Inform yourself really well on what journey a career can hold for you. Read up on where technology will and can take us and think about where you would like to see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years’ time.
Always set goals, understand you will need perseverance and life is never easy, but don’t lose sight of what you want and can achieve. If you understand your strengths and what motivates you, then you are halfway there. It helps to be passionate about your work, not every job will be the right job – but you will learn from it. I read this recently: “a career means a lifelong journey of skill, knowledge, and experience. An occupation is a specific role or category of jobs. A job is a specific step in your career”
If I were young and starting over I would either be looking at the food and fibre sector – I think it will be an exciting time of change and new developments, or have a different career in the construction or infrastructure industry where I would run my own large business. Unfortunately it takes you to age before you realise you always had the capability to do things you thought of, but didn’t know you could!
Finally, keep the company of people who believe in you, support you, and seek out a mentor. Mentorship is under-rated and underutilised.
What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?
Flying didn’t become a ‘career’ for me – but I have memories of some really cool places in NZ that very few people would get to see or go to.
Being a woman in construction is probably the most memorable and shaped my confidence and resilience. I think that would be the highlight. Running a successful business over 21 years and being accepted as a good tradesperson in a world that was not used to women in it (which has more to do with your attitude towards what you are doing, than other people's!) was personally and financially rewarding.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?
We engage in STEM constantly and don’t realise it. There is also a misguided idea that you have to be very academic to take these subjects. I wasn't great at maths at school but used it all day, every day while I was a tradie.
Science, technology, and engineering are making massive strides forward. It would be exciting to be involved and part of new technologies, or using STEM to find solutions to global problems, or hone your skills in the workplace and become a knowledgeable, productive part of a team through building on the basics you learnt at school.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?
Why wouldn’t more women choose to work in STEM? That there are less women than men working in STEM is no reason to not pursue a career in these fields.
The lack of ‘attractiveness’ of working in science or technology, engineering or using maths isn’t the reality of what can be an exciting pathway, well paid and satisfying. If more women had an opportunity to ‘see’ what careers exist in these fields and hear from women doing it, I am sure more women would pursue STEM.
Careers information is a large part of what I do now, and exposure to careers using STEM is the key to more uptake from women and is also the problem – there isn’t enough exposure. We are brushing off the old attitudes of STEM careers being staid and clinical or for males. Showcasing some of the amazing talent on this website to more females is key to spreading the word that STEM is ready and waiting for Kiwi women!
Mandy is working in education as a Principal Adviser, Secondary Transition at the Ministry of Education for the Wellington region. Previously she worked in construction as a tradesman (the term tradeswoman did not exist then!) and in aviation – she trained as a Commercial Helicopter Pilot. She is proudly Irish although she has lived in Aotearoa New Zealand most of her life, and she is grateful for the opportunities afforded here.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
View all profiles