If you think that you are too old to learn a new skill or your physical injury is the end of the world, take a leaf out of Helen’s book of inspiration!
Helen is a 51 year old electrical apprentice. She is also an Electrical Trade Assistant working alongside her partner Grant, who runs his own business, Dylko Electrical. She hits the gym 6 times a week and is adding one certificate after another to her list of qualifications.
For Helen, there is never a dull moment in her life. But things weren’t like that always.
A 5th Degree Black Belt holder, it wasn’t easy for Helen to wind up her family owned Martial Arts School in Canada and move to home town of Cobar, New South Wales. With stress of a broken marriage, financially unstable and having no employable skills, Helen contemplated her chances of survival. Finally, she ended up getting a job as an underground truck driver in CSA mines.
But it did not last long.
Helen met Grant and the two moved to Wauchope. Having to lose her job once again, Helen finally decided to start her own cleaning business.
“I walked for hours doing letter box drops and because I am such a detail oriented person I designed check lists for each cleaning job. Real estate property managers started to contact me to clean for them and basically the work just took off,” Helen recalls.
It was successful and Helen was able to enjoy some time off which she would then spend helping Grant with his books.
Unfortunately, just when her cleaning business was at its peak, Helen suffered a serious injury at the gym breaking one of the facet joints in her back throwing a wrench in the wheel.
Grant still wanted Helen to help him with his electrical business, so she took the role of an Electrical Trade Assistant and has never looked back.
“My goal was to become a very efficient trade assistant to my partner as he needed to be on the tools and time off the tools meant lost revenue. So I made it my responsibility to become educated on as much as I can,” Helen says.
She enrolled herself in diverse courses as Construction White Card, Working At Heights Card, Competent Assistant (Essential Energy), Testing and Tagging Registered Tester, CPR certified and Police check approved.
She would read the Wiring Rules, research items on the internet, speak with the supplier to educate herself and find the most efficient ways of doing things.
But how did Helen ended as an electrical apprentice at a mature age of 51, just when most Tradies would be winding down their careers?
“In the early stages of working with Grant I considered an apprenticeship but quickly dismissed the idea as I am not a classroom learner. My ultimate learning environment has been on the job and standing there trying to figure it out. Also the $14,600 price tag for an apprenticeship did not help either as we faced mortgage payments and everyday living expenses like every other Tradie,” Helen explains.
Luckily, in June 2018, the government announced free apprenticeships and the duo discussed this opportunity again. Despite knowing it would be a huge commitment and a real stretch out of her comfort level, the brave girl still decided to give it a shot and enrolled in TAFE Port Macquarie as an electrical apprentice.
If you asked her how her first class was, “overwhelming” would be an understatement!
“My first class of DC Theory they were talking about math formulas and algebra. Oh my gosh - I was completely lost,” Helen says.
Since then every day has been a struggle, yet the first year electrical apprentice is not yet ready to give up!
Those who are self-employed know that it can be non-stop.
For Helen, a typical day starts at 3:45 am.
“I get up and do bookwork, ensure that the jobs and all materials are ready for the day. Then I will review my TAFE work followed by a gym session or run. At 7:30am – I head off to work that consists of - crawling through the roof or under a house, installing cables, fitting off power points, replacing lights, installing TV antennas, installing / replacing smoke alarms. At 4:00pm the job ends and the management begins. Invoices, book-keeping, scheduling and returning calls. Every fortnight I have a personal training session at the gym. There are times where I will do an afternoon spin session in our garage or a cardio workout on the rowing machine. 8:00pm Bed time.
“Grant and I love what we do. We love the fact that we work together. We receive many compliments about how well we work together. I cannot imagine it any other way.”
“There have been numerous such moments but I recently completed the Competent Assistant course which allows me to be the observer for Grant when he is doing Level 2 ASP work.”
I love running and I’m doing it about 3 days a week at the moment. I also spend time on the weekends preparing food so that I do not have to be stressed out cooking during the week.
Tradie Life is a growing community group run by i4Tradies. It’s a place for you to talk about whatever's important to you as a tradie. Be it your personal life challenges, questions on how to improve your business, your journey so far, volunteer work, being a female tradie, work-life balance, what you like to do when you are not working. Pretty much anything that matters to you and you want an answer to it from veteran tradies who have walked in your shoes.