We were lucky to get to interview the wonderful Isabella recently, who shared her incredible story with us in becoming a horticulturalist. Drawn to working outdoors and endowed with a green thumb, Isabella is completing her traineeship with Maxima – a not-for-profit community-oriented organisation supporting people in their pursuit of meaningful work. Read all about Isabella’s journey below.
Before I got into horticulture, I worked as a Store Manager for a large company
I worked for a large company in school, and by the age of 18, they offered me the Store Manager position. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was that age, so I thought the opportunity was alright – it was a full-time position, and I didn’t have to think about it too much. The strange thing about that is that in Year 12 I handed in a workplace assignment entitled “Females in Trades”, so it was right in front of me the whole time!
I’d worked in every role in that company by the age of 20, and there was nowhere really for me to go besides making a move to Melbourne. At that age, I really wasn’t up for moving. I applied for the police force thinking that that career was more “me”. My Dad is a horticulturist and he asked me “Why don’t you try Maxima and see if you can get a traineeship in horticulture?”. I was a bit hesitant as I’d already applied for the police force. He said, “go for it anyway and see what comes first. Whatever will be, will be”. The offer from Maxima came through first, and I took it up. It was honestly the best decision I made because I love it. I’m happy it worked out that way looking back on it – I could not see myself as a police officer!
Looking back on it now, my Dad did influence me quite a bit
I grew up with my Dad working in the garden and fixing tools. I’d be with him in the garden helping to grow vegetables. Dad wasn’t the only influence though – all of my uncles are tradespeople too: electricians, plasterers, builders, and so on, so I was surrounded and comfortable with trades. But there were no female role models in my family. I come from an Italian background and you get that stereotype that females shouldn’t be doing this type of job. I remember when I told my Nonna I was going to become a horticulturist, she said “No, no, no no! You can’t do that, you need to do something else”. I said, “No Nonna, I can do this, it’s not a bad thing”. She said it was OK. Everyone’s got their own ideas and beliefs.
I went into horticulture to give it a go. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have continued with it. My Dad said to me “you can’t say no without giving it a go”. I feel like everyone close to me was really supportive of my decision.
My traineeship with Maxima is amazing
They’re really on to it and responsive from the moment that I was interviewed. The traineeship itself is fantastic because there’s a great range of things you get exposed to. I remember the first traineeship position they put me into was an arborist team instead of the horticulture team. This was daunting – my first day included being the only girl on the team, being surrounded by 15 guys, being around huge trucks for the first time, and the fact that I’d never worked with trees before. At the end of the day, I went back to my family and told them how much I loved it, and how amazed I was in working alongside climbers.
You don’t get to climb initially, and in the first three months, you don’t get to cut. Thankfully I was put back in the same team. I did try working at heights from a cherry picker, which was a bit uncomfortable, and passed on being on the ropes.
At the end of the three months, I was rotated to the next area, which was horticulture – this was a great experience. My team leader for horticulture was amazing. She took me under her wing and looked after me. Everyone that knew her really spoke well of her, and I looked up to her as a role model. I learned from her that to succeed you really needed to be willing to learn and work at your skills.
Then after three months there, I was rotated to irrigation. That experience was amazing too – I was the first female apprentice to ever be put into an irrigation team. But really, they were all supportive – the guy I worked for was all for me getting into irrigation, giving him a hand, and doing repairs. The manager in irrigation was great too – he told me to give anything a go, and if it’s not right we can always fix it up.
All the sites I work on are for local government, so all your local parks and gardens, which is fun. My forte is edging and hedging! I could do that all day. I haven’t been able to do this yet, but I know I would be great at lawns. There is nothing like a well-maintained, lush lawn to look at when you walk by a place.
My time in trade school was great
The guys that I trained with were great too, they usually made me the decision-maker! The only thing I have to comment about is that their paperwork is all over the place! It was hilarious when they looked over at my files and colour coding system.
There haven’t been any huge adjustments to get used to
Getting up early wasn’t an issue. The great thing about starting early is getting to leave at 3:30 pm. The only thing I had to adjust to was the temperature changes – working early means it’s cold, then after working for a while getting hot, then get cold again when you stop for a break, so I’m forever putting on and taking off my jacket. But adjusting wasn’t hard at all.
I haven’t experienced any negativity at being a female tradie amongst a lot of guys. I don’t feel the pressure to be better than the guys, because I don’t compare myself with anyone. The only thing I do is push myself to be better all the time.
All I can say is go for it – give it a go!
The first this I would really recommend to women looking at trying a trade is to go and do some work experience. If you went into it without background or experience, unlike me, it would be a bit of a shock. Work with an electrician, a plumber, a chippie, anything you can. That way you’ll find the trade that’s perfect for you and get a great range of experiences out of it. Just take any opportunity you can get – get your ticket, do a short course, anything.
I recommend chatting to other tradeswomen too. I’m in contact with Melbourne Chippy Chick Stef (Stefanie Apostolidis), who’s really great and supportive. We’re looking at setting up a Tradie Ladie Adelaide group and catchups. We’ve had to put off the catch-ups because of COVID of course.
Going for it and pushing myself to be better every day has really paid off – Maxima nominated me for apprentice of the year last year, so we’ll see how that goes.
I really feel that going into a trade as a mature age apprentice was a good thing
Because I really appreciate the opportunity I have, and because I worked quite a bit before stepping into a traineeship. I’ve observed a few younger people who don’t understand how good the conditions are – the hours, the family environment. On the other hand, I know some workplaces don’t cater for females at all, like facilities and gear. I’m grateful times have changed – we have a choice of gear now. Before I could get a pair of boots and that’s it. Now they have pants to fit females, and boots come in a choice of colours and a range of brands.
When I finish my traineeship, my aim will be to get a full-time job in horticulture in government or private enterprise. Long-term – way into the future – I would really like to get into teaching. My Dad was a great teacher – he would sit down with you, explain the process really clearly, and encourage you along the way. I really believe it takes the right person to teach the skill and to be patient too.
Outside of work, I love to bake and cook – it doesn’t matter how bad my day has been, the moment I get into a kitchen I feel better when I start cooking. Walking my dog, Irwin (a big beautiful golden Labrador) is the cherry on top of my day too – when we go out for a walk I get to have a really good, calm, end to the day.
Are you inspired to start a traineeship, apprenticeship, or get into horticulture like Isabella? To receive information and advice on taking up an apprenticeship, get in touch with us via email.
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