Bronwen Coe is living proof you’re never too old to start a new career and it’s never too late to do something you love.
The “40-something” has two university qualifications – a BSc (Hons) degree in Physiotherapy and a post-graduate diploma in Sports Physio - and was happily employed as a physiotherapist, but three years' ago found a new love in the form of upholstery. She is now working in the industry and studying towards her Level 3 NZ Certificate in Furniture Upholstery.
Bronwen says she’s always been artistic and her love of furniture restoration and upholstery is another creative outlet.
“When I lived in Whanganui, I found some old chairs and then set about finding an upholsterer who would help me breathe new life into them. I found one, he agreed and guided me through the upholstering process. That was it. I thought wow I really want to do this!”
In 2017, Bronwen and her family moved to Invercargill, where she was keen to develop her skills with a career in upholstery rather than continue it as a hobby.
“I saw the work Brenda Mathers was doing at Suite Southern Upholstery – she has great flair and an eye for design. It’s more than just putting a new cover on something, it’s the detail and a lot of care and attention goes into every piece. That appealed to me so I pestered her for a job. That was two years’ ago! I’m not only learning furniture upholstery but marine and auto upholstery too – the skills I’m learning all complement each other.”
Brenda has 33 years of upholstery experience under her belt and was the first woman motor trimmer apprentice in the country. “Back then you learned all aspects of the trade. Our business is unique as we do every type of trimming and upholstery – we’ve got it all covered - literally. And business is booming. We are also looking at employing another woman and putting them through the Competenz training programme."
Independent contract assessor for Competenz, John Abraham, visits Bronwen every couple of months and says her training is going very well. “Her written work is outstanding and she’s very keen.” Bronwen says John’s regular visits are valuable to keep her on track. “He’s both helpful and approachable and always available to talk to.”
While fewer than 3% of upholstery learners in NZ are women, Bronwen says the profession is a great career choice.
“It is a very creative profession and I hope to become a highly skilled upholsterer. My employer, Brenda, is a fantastic teacher and the Competenz training programme provides structure to my learning. Age has not been a barrier and I would recommend it as a career. It would be great to see more women in the trade.”
With Government subsidies now available for employers of first and second-year apprentices, and free fees on apprenticeships and other industry training, there has never been a better time to train.
Find out more about the qualifications we offer in upholstery and furniture finishing
Aotearoa has reached a significant milestone, with 50,000 trade apprentices having passed through the Apprenticeship Boost programme since 2020.
When challenged with finding more skilled tradespeople, Ferndale Furniture took on a team of apprentices who are continuing to deliver results.