Yarra Trams Electrical Apprentice Meg Mahon’s initial career path was nursing. But then a light bulb went off and she changed tracks to become a ‘sparky’. Now restoring a vintage B-Class tram at the Glenhuntly depot, the switched-on 25-year-old is empowering more young women to follow her lead.
Where are you from?
Woodend, a little country town. I have three sisters and a brother; I’m the oldest. Most of them are at school or studying. My mum’s a farmer and my dad works for a local council.
What sparked your ambition to be an electrician?
I started a nursing degree after school, did two years then decided it wasn’t for me. I was always interested in being an electrician but was a bit wary due to the industry’s male dominance. I was like, ‘what if I don’t like it, what if they’re mean’?
Not a typical career for a woman.
Not really, but I think it’s becoming more popular; it’s a good career and any woman could do it.
How did your family and friends react – were they shocked?!
(Laughs) It was electrifying news! Not too shocked, they were very supportive and happy for me, and said, ‘good on you, give it a go’.
What attracted you to working in the rail industry?
When I did my pre-apprenticeship I thought, well there’s domestic and commercial, and that’s it. But then this Yarra Trams opportunity came up and it sounded really interesting.
Do you and your three female apprentice workmates have a lot in common?
We’re fairly spread out in age but we all want to have careers in this industry and are a good support system for each other at work.
How do you feel working in what is traditionally a ‘man’s world’?
I feel good about it. We’re getting to a point now where everybody’s onboard with women in trades. I have great mentors here and everyone is willing to help and teach you things and there’s no difference between how boys and girls are treated.
What does a typical working week look like for you?
I work at the depot four days a week on 6am to 2pm shifts and Thursday at trade school. We do two weekly basic services on the rolling stock trams. It’s our smallest service; takes an hour.
Do you change the oil and spark plugs?
(Laughs) Just checking and testing everything is working and stable – lights, console, doors, things like that. The rest of the day we fix defects on trams.
You’re so switched-on you’ve been given a 30-year-old B-Class tram to restore!
I suppose! But I think they’re going to give the same opportunity to the other apprentices.
What kind of shape was the tram in?
Not great as it was missing a lot of parts that had been taken for other trams.
When did you start working on it?
In December and it should be back on the road in a few weeks if everything goes according to plan.
Was it a challenging job?
Yes, because I’d never worked on a B-Class before, and didn’t know what parts went where. I was out of my comfort zone having to contact people I didn’t know to track down hard-to-find parts. I also had to perform tasks like wiring I’d not done before.
Have you bonded with your B-Class tram?
I love this tram and am pretty excited about it going back into service! I like working on old trams as you can trace from point to point how the tram is wired. It’s like working on an old car compared to a new one.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
Women supporting women and women empowering women to do things that are not commonly done. This interview was important for me to do because I want to set an example for my younger sisters and other women. I want to say to them; ‘if you want to do something like this job, just do it as there’s no reason why women can’t be in trades’.
Any other advice for women contemplating a trades-based career?
Do a pre-apprenticeship, which are available for most trades. And just go for it as it’s not like it used to be and you’re not going to get discriminated against or picked on because you’re a girl.
Are there any barriers that might discourage women from joining this industry?
All I can think of are physical barriers, like things women can’t do if they’re not strong or tall enough. I had pretty much no experience with tools or power tools. I just walked in with a screwdriver. It’s like any job; you just learn how to do it, and I had a lot of help from all the guys.
What are your career aspirations once you’re a qualified sparky?
Not sure. I’m enjoying my apprenticeship and loving working with Yarra Trams. I can see myself staying here after my apprenticeship. I’m excited to go to other depots and work on other trams and see which one I like best.