From fact to fiction

June 10, 2024

From fictional muse to real-world apprentice – Patsy Gadsby is making her mark, inspired by an animated character in a fantasy television series.

Once a jack of all trades and now an aspiring engineer, Patsy attributes Avatar The Legend of Korra to propelling her into the trade.

“I worked as a cleaner and in a bakery, I studied to be a make-up artist and spent three years as a postie, but it was during the six months I spent jobless watching Avatar that I finally worked out what I wanted to do,” she says.

“One of the characters in the series was an engineer and she was so badass. It really inspired me to see a female doing a job that’s traditionally done by men.”

Fast-forward a few years and the Manurewa 30-year-old is now halfway through an engineering fabrication apprenticeship, and is blazing a trail at Black Steel Mobile (BSM),one of Auckland’s leading steel fabricators.

“I spent the first 18 months as a trades assistant; I was green, I didn’t know anything! After that they put me in a bay to do some basic fabrication and welding, which I was actually pretty good at, so they asked me if I wanted to do an apprenticeship.”

She jumped at the chance.

“Doing a trade gives you a new skill set, you can work overseas, and you don’t have to pay back a massive student loan. There are so many benefits.”

One of eight apprentices currently in training at BSM, Patsy is the only female – but that’s never held her back.

“They don’t treat me any different just because I’m a girl. If they see I’m struggling because I’m not as strong, they come and help me, but they don’t treat me like a damsel in distress. I feel like I’m respected. It all comes down to the effort you put in; if you can prove yourself it doesn’t matter what gender you are.”

Patsy has taken to the practical side of the trade like a duck to water, and her well-honed eye for detail is highly valued in the fabrication bay.

“I’m suitedfor architectural stuff that requires finesse, anything that needs to look pretty! When we have jobs that require an eye for detail that’s where I flourish.”

The bookwork is proving more challenging, but with plenty of support from BSM and Competenz, Patsy is thriving.

“I can’t say I enjoy the bookwork but there’s an end game. My foreman and supervisor are always here to answer any questions, and so are our qualified apprentices. Then every Monday BSM puts on two hours of evening classes to cement our learning. I feel lucky to have this help; I don’t know if I’d be able to get through it on my own.”

BSM General Manager Steve Powell is thrilled with her progress.

“Patsy is great, and her attention to detail is a huge strength,” says Steve. “The paperwork and relearning how to learn new things academically has been more of a challenge, but that’s why we have our weekly group training sessions – they’re designed to facilitate that transition from working to working and learning.”

As well as nurturing apprentices through their training, BSM encourages them to attend industry events, further boosting confidence and industry connections. For Patsy, the mentoring is clearly paying off.

“She has so much more confidence now than she did when she started with us,” adds Steve.

Competenz Training Advisor Jonathan Newsome has also noticed the transformation.

“I was really impressed with how Patsy offered to take the stage and share her experience at a recent Women in Trades event; she’s a great role model for other women considering careers in the trade,” says Jonathan, who helps guide Patsy through her apprenticeship by providing personalised support and ensuring her unique needs and goals are addressed.

On-the-job learning in an industry she loves has finally given Patsy a career to be excited about.

“The first day I walked into this workshop I was like a scared little rabbit, but now I have so much more confidence and faith in my abilities. I can weld and make things from steel. Last year I even made a set of stairs. It was really difficult and at the time I questioned whether I’d actually be able to finish it, but once it was done and installed I felt so proud.

“I’m really glad I watched that Avatar cartoon and it inspired me to become a steel fabricator!”