Ali paints her way to qualify for the National WorldSkills Competition

A Painter Decorator apprentice and participant in The BUSY Sisters mentoring program, Ali Maher has qualified for the National Worldskills competition which will be held later this year in Melbourne.

The National Worldskills competition is held over three days to showcase the very best of Australian skills excellence and career pathways. In August, visitors will get to witness the country’s best trainees and apprentices go head-to-head in a high-pressure skills competition. Finalists for each trade will then qualify for the international Worldskills Championships which will be held September 2024 in Lyon, France.

To qualify for the Nationals, Ali had to beat other finalists in her closest regional competition held in Toowoomba last October. Firstly though, she had to be shortlisted to compete in the regionals, a trial period that takes around five to six months.

At the regional event, qualifying apprentices represented a range of ages and stages in their apprenticeship, some only in their first year, and Ali, a second-year apprentice, was the only female representing her trade.

Ali said of the regional competition, “I’m a painter decorator but each trade has their own thing, like mechanics, boilermakers etc. Criteria wise there are different categories e.g., work health and safety and we are also given a full design to paint. We have to stencil to measurement, and we have a blank wall to design and paint. You must be within 3mm of each point in the drawing and you get marked down if you go over that.

“It’s quite stressful actually. I was a bit nervous, but I think that’s where the boys fell down the wayside because they sort of cracked under pressure. I was like, this is fun, I like high pressure situations.

“I didn’t believe I’d win, thought there may be a chance to come second or third but I ended up winning. I was the only girl, obviously we are under-represented in the trades. The judges came up to me afterwards and said they even marked me harder (so it didn’t look like they were just going for the only girl) – and I still won!”

Ali is now busy preparing for the Nationals.

“I’m looking forward to the Nationals in Melbourne but it’s very nerve-wracking. My trainer (Nigel Gorman) is going with me which is good. We do preparation, it’s like a school assignment. We have the criteria list to go by and there are certain things we have to do. For example, there is an amount of time to do a mural on the wall. Also, a certain amount of time for wallpapering – bit nervous about that!”

BUSY Sisters is a mentoring program that supports females who are entering or have entered non-traditional trades, offering one-on-one support with a female mentor who has had first-hand experience in a male-dominated industry.  Caroline Miall, Ali’s mentor, believes Ali will do really well in the National competition.

“Caroline is my mentor and it’s so nice that someone checks in! We regularly chat about work and sometimes we meet at TAFE.  Not just me, sometimes we have a lot of girls in the class, so she checks in with them as well.”

When asked what she would say to other women looking to enter a non-traditional trade, Ali stated, “I often get asked this question, so I’ve thought about it a lot. I would say girls are tougher. Having someone that pushes you, like a dedicated boss or tradie that supports you helps. But yes, I would say to women – you’re tough. The game is tough but you’re tougher so you can do it!”

Caroline Miall (BUSY Sisters Mentor) with Ali Maher who has qualified for the National Worldskills competition to be held in Melbourne in August this year.