I grew up on a farm with my mum and brothers and watched my mum do everything from tiling to connecting our windmill so I never really thought of jobs as being gender dominate.
Hi, my name is Elissa. I'm a qualified Plumber, Drainer & Gas fitter and I run my own company Valetta Projects Pty Ltd out of Canberra, servicing my local community and the surrounding areas.
I started my apprenticeship in 2003 and to be honest, was a bit naïve when I started. I grew up on a farm with my mum and brothers and watched my mum do everything from tiling to connecting our windmill so I never really thought of jobs as being gender dominate. I honestly didn’t even see jobs as being gender dominate until I started going out on site. I started working weekends with my families drainage company and would hear people say “does your daughter like being out here”, “I hope she’s getting paid well”, “gee you don’t see that very often” and I guess I just kind of ignored it and went along with my day most of the time. When I started tech however, it was pretty obvious that female plumbers were a rare thing. I felt like I had leprosy for the first few weeks, I was the only female doing plumbing at the time and the boys wouldn’t even talk to me, but that changed when I was miles ahead of them in class and they needed a bit of help or had questions.
During my apprenticeship, I struggled a little with people’s attitude towards my chosen profession. On a number of occasions, people said to me “you must have done really badly at school to be stuck doing plumbing” which was not true at all. I did quite well at school, I originally wanted to be a marine biologist but I looked at how long I would have to study for, the cost and my wages at the end and thought ‘Na, that’s not for me!’.
I honestly do not recall anyone assuming that I was a plumber because I wanted to be, and congratulating me on that choice. So that kind of attitude and sheer ignorance made me pretty annoyed and angry sometimes but I used it to make me more resilient and determined to prove people wrong. I remember one time I sat in a client’s home for close to 30min having tea while we waited for my ‘boss’ as they didn’t believe I was there alone. I learnt to see the humour in some situations or you just go mad!
I started my own company in 2008 concentrating mostly on residential, working in Canberra, Queanbeyan, Cooma, South Coast, Goulburn and Yass areas. I got working for a few builders and was doing 7 days a week for a long time. I found it easy to get into a bit of a groove and just become a working machine. I do regret that as I wish I got into commercial and experienced that side of my trade a bit more.
One piece of advice I have for anyone coming into the trade is stretch out, see what’s available out there. Work isn’t everything and if you don’t take a bit of time out to talk to people and see what’s available you can get stuck on repeat. The more skills you have and the wider they range, the more doors open up for you, networking and communication is key in our industry.
About 4yrs ago I started working at CIT as a plumbing teacher. I wanted to start a family and have steady income; something which you don’t always have being your own boss, particularly when people don’t pay for months on end. I run my business on weekends and night times and teach during the day. I'm grateful that I have had the opportunity to teach and start a family with the support of available maternity leave, something I couldn’t have made work while being self-employed & single business operator, but nothing beats being on site.
I get told I'm a bit crazy but honestly, being on site in my excavator, walking through trenches with mud on your boots, sweat pouring from your face, hair caked with sweat and dirt... it's just heaven for me!
Need a plumber? Contact Elissa at Valette Projects 0402 120 442