Elaina - Painter & Business Owner / Kaipeita

School wasn’t for me, I felt it was a waste of time for my type of personality. Luckily mum got me out early so I could do a course in hospitality. I never dreamed of going to university, I just wanted to get out and get into something useful.

I wanted to earn money. Those early years would’ve been wasted if I’d spent them in school for education sake. You can educate yourself in many ways, not just in applied study. For me it was about taking the step to doing something I actually enjoyed. I couldn’t wait to enter the workforce.

One of my good friends got pressured by her parents into doing a degree. They told her she had to go to university.

They paid her fees and helped her through it, but since finishing she hasn’t put her qualification to use. At the end of the day, I think it’s about what you want to do. You’ve got to know what you want and have the drive to follow things through. There’s no use in having someone telling you what to do because it’ll never make you happy.

I started to hate working hospitality hours. It meant I couldn’t go out at night and I’d be too tired to make the most of the day. My oldest brother was the regional manager for a painting company, so he asked me if I wanted to give painting a shot. It was a big decision, but I decided to give it a go. My first job was painting a holiday resort and I really enjoyed it. When I was doing bar work, it was a drag to get up and go to work. But in this job, I looked forward to it.

I’ve been pretty lucky. Getting into a trade is a good idea because there’s constant work. It’s enabled me to have flexible hours and has supported me during pregnancy.

I’ve been able to step back in when the kids were old enough for daycare. I always used to work Monday to Thursday and have a couple of days off with the kids. Now that they’re are at primary school, I’m back to five days a week. I try to make sure I offer the same flexibility to the women that work for me. I know what it’s like having a young family and I’m happy to put in a lot of effort to accommodate their family needs.

One of my workers Lisa has a young child too. She’s a single mum and made the decision that she’d rather find a job than sit at home on the dole. Her son is four and goes to daycare, so we work around that and plan for school drop offs. Being the boss means I can be flexible about choosing what hours the crew works.

It’s a family effort at our place. My kid’s dad Phil finishes work at 2:30pm, so he does the school pick up. He takes them home and helps with their homework. They have their baths and help cook dinner. This way they have quality time with dad, which I think is really important. For any family - it’s important to find that routine and balance. It takes a certain amount of give and take to make it work and you just do what you’ve got to do. The weekends are really special to us because they give us time to chill out. We bought them motorbikes. They loved them so much that I got one too. I take them out to the Waimak on Sundays and do all the trail rides, make a real day of it.

Owning my own business has been pretty easy, really. I don’t do any of the bookwork. I’ve got an office chick who does all my invoicing, wages, all that kind of stuff. Apart from having to schedule jobs and organise people and supplies - which I find really easy because I like talking to people - it’s pretty much like I’m an employee.

Everything runs so smoothly that it’s actually been a bit of a breeze. Staff come and go, but it doesn’t worry me. I like to keep it tight and work in a small team. If you work for bigger companies you’re just a number. The boss wouldn’t know your name or anything about you. But here, we’re all close - it’s like a family. In actual fact, for the past 18 months my mum has been working here. It’s awesome to have her on the crew. David is currently our only male painter and I think he finds it interesting working with five or six females. Other tradesmen come in and get a bit jealous. Unless something drastic happened, I couldn’t see myself going back onto wages. I just want to keep an eye out for my team, do my best to look after them and keep the money ticking over. I’m pretty cruisy.

When I first started painting I felt like I was the only woman around. My boss said to me, “If anyone gives you any slack, just let me know.” I remember saying to him, “Look. I’m big enough to stand on my own two feet. If anyone gives me slack, I’ll give it back twice as hard.” You can’t let yourself be walked over. Nowadays, women tradies are becoming more common. I had a female sparky around to a rental property last week. That was almost unheard of 10 years ago.

A lot of people have this perception of seedy tradesmen. That works in my favour. Women often tell me it’s nice seeing more females in trades. They believe women have better attention to detail and are tidier. I don’t necessarily think that’s true, it’s just what they tell me. One of the big contractors actually used one of my girls as the face of their advertising campaign. For many people, having women on staff is a big selling point.

How do I get into this career?

- Try the Careers NZ website, the link will take you straight to more information about being a painter and decorator. Their 'How to enter the job' section has a lot of really good info.

- You might like to follow up by emailing or visiting tertiary providers and asking them more about their courses.

- Another idea is to research local businesses, call them, and ask if you can go in for a day or a week to see what the job is actually like. This will allow you to quickly figure out if this sort of job is for you. This is called 'informational interviewing' and there are some great online resources on how to approach this.