HVAC&R may be a traditionally male dominated industry, but there are stories of change – including the experience of refrigeration and air conditioning apprentice Katie Hammill-Lovett.
Hammill-Lovett is one of 15 people in Australia to secure an apprenticeship with Woolworths Group in the past year, and is one of only four female apprentices to be selected from nearly 500 applicants.
After just six months in the role, Hammill-Lovett says her experience so far has been a positive one.
“When I started I didn’t even know any other female tradies, so I had no idea what it was going to be like stepping into a traditionally male dominated industry,” Hammill-Lovett says.
“Going into it was a bit stressful at first but I’m being supported so much and learning new things all of the time – every single day is different.
“The tradesmen I work with don’t care about gender at all, they just want me to get in there and have a go. They just want to pass on their knowledge and teach me the skills they’ve learned over the years. They think having a female on the team is awesome.”
Hammill-Lovett started her HVAC&R journey by enrolling in a Certificate II in Electrotechnology at TAFE Queensland. She says this gave her insight into the industry, as well as the foundation skills she needed to start applying for apprenticeships.
“I’d been looking into a range of different jobs and thought I might be suited for a trade career.,” she says. “I didn’t even think about refrigeration until I studied a Certificate II in Electrotechnology. All the guys in my class were studying refrigeration and I was like, what is this trade?
“I talked to my teacher about it, looked at the refrigeration and air conditioning facilities at TAFE and here I am. I found it and I fell in love with it.”
After reaching out to a TAFE Queensland Employment Officer, Hammill-Lovett found out about the apprenticeship openings at Woolworths Group and jumped at the opportunity.
“This was my one shot and where I wanted to start,” she says. “I thought this opportunity would be my first foot in the door.”
After passing through an intensive recruitment process, Hammill-Lovett was offered a refrigeration and air conditioning apprenticeship within Woolworth’s Queensland Installation and Construction team.
Woolworths Group Apprenticeship Program Manager Caroline Fitzgerald says that, during the recruitment process, one of Woolworths Group’s main aims was to have a gender-balanced number of shortlisted candidates.
“At Woolworths we believe our customers should see in our people a reflection of themselves and their communities,” says Fitzgerald.
“We are committed to achieving gender equity – it’s one of our key 2025 goals to ensure we truly are an inclusive workplace.
“We had gender-balanced interview panels and wanted a gender-balanced number of shortlisted candidates to progress to the final stage. All short-listed candidates had to meet the stringent selection criteria to be considered for this opportunity.”
Fitzgerald says that once Hammill-Lovett completes her trade qualification there will be opportunities available for her and other apprentices to progress further to take on more senior roles within the organisation.
“Katie will not be limited to being a refrigeration and air conditioning technician in the future,” says Fitzgerald, “there is a whole raft of different career opportunities available within Woolworths. If she chooses to become a project manager or even the next state manager, the opportunities are there.”
Hammill-Lovett says she is looking forward to completing her apprenticeship and hopes to gain as much industry knowledge as possible.