10 July 2023

Crookwell woman in the pink after being named top non-traditional apprentice

| Sally Hopman
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Two women with award

Upper Lachlan Shire Council’s Charli Croker receives her award for excellence from Gay Donnelly of the Hunter Valley Training Company, which supervised the young Crookwell woman’s apprenticeship. Photo: Supplied.

When Charli Croker was called up on stage to receive her award as Non-Traditional Apprentice of the Year, it was no coincidence that she was wearing an eye-catching pink outfit.

It had been a hard slog for the 21-year-old from Crookwell, a young woman who had always felt happier working outside than in. The idea of sitting behind a desk was never going to be an option.

“When I left school in 2019, all my friends were going off to uni and I thought, what am I going to do?

“I saw an ad for a civil construction apprenticeship at the council so I thought, why not?”

Charli, who can now operate a backhoe, excavator and grader, has been awarded the Woman in Non-Traditional Trade Apprentice/Trainee of the Year titles from Hunter Valley Training Company, the training organisation that supervised her apprenticeship on the Upper Lachlan Shire Council at Crookwell, in the NSW Southern Tablelands.

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“I was pretty happy when they told me I had won,” Charli said, “because it has been a hard slog.”

Charli wore her pink number to the award presentation for two reasons: she wanted to make a point and she loved the outfit.

She said women working in non-traditional fields, especially in regional towns, was still “a thing”.

“I had to prove myself,” she said. “Like I’d be going to pick something up and one of the guys would say, ‘No, it’s too heavy for you, let me pick it up’.

“But I showed them. I can be quite determined. It was important for me to build up my confidence, to prove them wrong. So I just kept going until I got it right.

“It was really quite hard at times. Had it not been for my family and friends, I don’t think I could have got through it.”

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Charli said although she could not have secured the apprenticeship without the support of those around her, it took a while for them to accept this work – “We make dirt roads into tarred roads” – was for her.

“They weren’t too sure at first,” she said. “But after a while, they came around and said I should go for it. I think they started to see a new confidence in me.”

So what did she think when she heard she’d been nominated for the awards? “Holy s–t,” she said. “I usually like to be behind the scenes, so I was shocked.”

Charli said she loved working on the council now, but eventually, she’d like to land her “dream job” – nursing.

woman on jobsite with heavy machinery

Award-winning apprentice Charli Croker doing what she does best, working outside – preferably with large machinery. Photo: Supplied.

“I don’t know why,” she said. “I just like to help people … I like to see people get better.”

Charli completed her three-year apprenticeship in civil construction earlier this year, and applied for an advertised position driving a roller operator in Upper Lachlan Shire Council’s construction gang and was successful.

Gay Donnelly from the Hunter Valley Training Company described Charli as a standout apprentice who performed above the expected level and went above and beyond her requirements.

“I do not take these nominations lightly and only nominate standout trainees and apprentices for these awards,” Ms Donnelly said.

“Charli was always right on top of her game with her studies, took all feedback on very well, and always showed dedication to her role and a strong will to succeed.”

Upper Lachlan Council CEO Alex Waldron described Charli as a role model for women in the sector “when she recently spoke about the program at a local school, demonstrating leadership by sharing her experiences.

“Charli’s advocacy is a tribute to her, and her achievements are a great benefit for the industry,” Ms Waldron said.

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