50% of Apprentices at Excel, female by 2025.

A Conversation with Rebecca Barr - our first female apprentice.

Trades in NZ are in desperate need of more tradeswomen on the job. In the Refrigeration and Air conditioning trade the number of females is not even 2%. Pretty abysmal when we know that 50% of the New Zealand workforce is women. Given today’s serious skill shortage and the fact that having a diverse workforce is good for business, Excel has set a bold goal to have 50% of the apprentice workforce, female by 2025. We are leading an active campaign of recruiting female apprentices into the Refrigeration and HVAC industry.

Rebecca Barr is our first female apprentice and now one of our key tradespeople  in the Taranaki team, she completed her trade in 2018. Rebecca has a natural bent towards mechanical and practical things. She has her own stock cars and is a serious contender in races New Zealand wide. Rebecca got into the trade through a work experience opportunity while still at school and feels very lucky that this is the trade she chose. Mostly, “because of the variety of things you get to work on, no day is ever the same.”

Being a fridgie doesn’t mean fixing domestic fridges, it involves a lot of work on commercial and industrial sites in multiple industries, from chocolate making, rocket launching, cheese processing, growing lettuces, oil and gas, through to processing chickens, just to name a few. It involves electrical testing, identifying trends, rebuilding compressors, pulling valves apart and so much more. There are no barriers to being a woman in the trade and you do grow your strength and fitness on the job. “All of the really heavy lifting is usually done by machines”, everyone’s health and safety is non-negotiable at Excel.

Rebecca says. “One of the early challenges in the role is talking to the customer and building credibility with them, once this has been achieved it is also one of the more satisfying aspects. You end up building great rapport and working alongside them to solve their business problems”  

“In today’s world, anywhere you go they want fridgies. So once we learn how to live in the covid world, employment in any country in the world becomes a possibility”

At Excel we believe our affirmative action approach, actively encouraging women will have nothing but a positive impact on our business, our culture and our people. To date our female tradespeople have brought a new way of thinking, great problem solving skills, organisation ability, attention to detail and just as importantly a positive contribution to our teams. These strengths along with great communication skills has not only benefited our people but also our ongoing relationships with our customers.

Rebecca is already in the position in which she owns her own house and races her own stock cars. An enviable position to be in when she is only just out of her time. Interestingly, recent research has shown that  female school leavers who enter apprenticeships can earn $145,000 more than their university counterparts by the age of 30.  As Rebecca says, “doing an apprenticeship means you are being paid to learn.”

There are rich career opportunities within the trade and at Excel we are working on ensuring that there is strong workplace support for all apprentices. Trades work always involves working closely as a team, so it becomes a great environment to make friends and meet people with similar passions to you. A couple of years out of her trade, Rebecca is already leading small teams on various sites and she has recently had the full responsibility for a winter shut on a specific Fonterra plant.

"If people are willing to learn and accept feedback, prepared to give things a go and have a natural desire to problem solve then being a fridgie is a great trade to be in. There is nothing more rewarding than being called out in the middle of the night, solving the problem and making the customer happy”

Rebecca says that even though she is almost 3 years out of her time, she still has so much to learn and she doesn’t see this changing. It is a dynamic industry in which new solutions, efficiencies and sustainability is constantly on the agenda.

Excel has been a great place for Rebecca to have completed her apprenticeship, she says “Excel does look after its people really well, they always ensure you get the right gear, the right tools and the quality vehicle and equipment to do your job really well.” Stephen Frowde, our Managing Director always says “ If you need it, you need it.”

At Excel we are taking a hammer to the industry’s glass ceiling and actively seeking female apprentices to develop their heating and cooling trade skills with us. We would encourage any woman who is interested in a trade to seriously consider the Refrigeration, HVAC industry and make contact with one of our businesses.

As Rebecca says…

"Just do it! There are so many opportunities out there and plenty of room for more people in the refrigeration business"


Get in touch to find out more about apprenticeship opportunities at Excel