February 28, 2020
Cherie Baldacchino’s father would often say, “a girl can’t do that” … but he had a cheeky grin and an ulterior motive.
These were the words which drove Cherie to become the first woman at Tarong power stations to complete an Electrical Apprenticeship.
Cherie and her family moved from Western Australia to Kingaroy when she was four.
They quickly settled into the rural community on a 250 acre hobby farm.
“We grew up being very ‘outdoorsy’, especially being on a farm with 30 head of cattle,” she said.
“I was my Dad’s shadow growing up and would spend hours hanging around him in the shed, tinkering away with something.”
Cherie credits those hours, and her father, for the “fire in her belly” to challenge herself and forge her own path in life.
“When I was in Year 11, I was thinking about university, but as Year 12 approached, I realised that I didn’t really want to take that path anymore,” she said.
“I had studied metal fabrication and woodwork throughout my entire schooling career, and they were subjects I really looked forward to each day.
“However, I only ever saw them as something fun on the side, not something I could pursue as a career.
“It was my dad who suggested I look into an apprenticeship, so I applied for work experience at both Tarong power stations and Meandu Mine.”
Enjoying the hands-on aspect of a trade, Cherie didn’t spend her school holidays like most other students, instead she decided to get as much experience in different trades as she could.
“I spent one week at Tarong power stations, working with the Units and Auxiliary teams, then another week at Meandu Mine with electrical tradespeople,” she said.
“While I was there, I got to help with the electrical service of a dragline and replace the electrical brushes, which was an unreal experience.”
It was at the completion of that week that Cherie knew that this is what she wanted to do.
“I spent months researching and prepping for my interview with Stanwell,” she said.
“I had some of my parents’ friends help me with my application, and my dad helped me with my interview preparation.”
Thinking outside of the (tool)box, Cherie decided to make sure she made an impression at her interview.
“I took a toolbox I had made into my interview,” she said.
“I wanted to show the panel what I was capable of and that I enjoyed doing hands-on tasks.”
The gamble paid off, with Cherie gaining a full-time apprenticeship at Tarong power stations in 2016.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, with Cherie admitting she went through a period of believing she had to prove herself, because she was a female.
“I felt like I had to prove I was ‘one of the guys’ to do well, which led me to struggle with my femininity at work,” she said.
“But, I realised, being a female tradie wasn’t a weakness and I could use that difference as strength to bring in a different perspective.”
Cherie credits Tarong power stations Operations Manager Dr Liz Beavis for helping to ensure she completed her apprenticeship to the best of her ability.
“I wouldn’t be able to thank Liz enough for everything she has done for me,” Cherie said.
“She stepped forward and started mentoring me, which was a life-changing opportunity.
“It gave me the chance to see another woman in a maintenance-based role, who has had an amazing career.
“It was great to have another female to turn to, who had shared a similar career path, who I could relate to and who could give me some really helpful advice.
“So, I took control of the things I could control, like the quality of my work, building my skills, and my attitude, and I let those things speak for the type of apprentice I am, not my gender.”
Cherie said the biggest lesson she learned during her apprenticeship was to “embrace who I am”.
“There were times I had to challenge the cultural stigma of being a female apprentice, but at the end of the day, everyone was really helpful and accepted me into the team,” she said.
“I wasn’t the ‘female apprentice’, rather just ‘one of the apprentices’.”
Cherie has since been joined by other female apprentices beginning their electrical apprenticeship at Tarong power stations.
“Liz became the familiar face I could always turn to, so I wanted to be able to provide that level of support to anyone who needed it,” she said.
“Over the last few years I have had the opportunity of mentoring other female electrical apprentices.
“We now have one female second year and two female first years on site, which is incredible.
“It has been a great opportunity to mentor those coming through and starting their journey.”
Cherie already has her next career goal in sight.
“I will be completing my Certificate III in Instrumentation and Control,” she said.
“Through my apprenticeship, I had the opportunity to get hands-on experience with the machines and how they operate.
“The next step in my career will be learning how to control those machines, which will bring more understanding into the whole process.