Perin proves her skills

Perin Breakell was awarded Apprentice of the Year by Master Builders Victoria. (Stewart Chambers: 417408_03)

By Mikayla van Loon

Having always had a dream of one day becoming a carpenter, Warrandyte mum Perin Breakell didn’t give up hope despite being knocked back from an apprenticeship at least 50 times.

Finding an employer in Kilsyth’s Craft Built Homes, the 36-year-old did a complete turn, taking home the Master Builders Association Victorian Apprentice of the Year Award for 2024, among a suite of leadership awards as well.

Perin said in the lead up to the awards, she wasn’t even sure she was going to attend given the pool of 150 tradies also up for the award.

“There were so many amazing trades up for the award and I knew within my own little world that I’m good at what I do but I didn’t really think on a broader scale that I could compete with everybody,” she said.

“It’s just a great feeling to know that I’ve put my heart out there, and the push and grind of it, it’s just all come together.

“So it’s a really good way, I think, to showcase that no matter your age or your gender, if you’ve got a dream, you can just go out there and get it.”

From a young age, Perin said she was drawn to the carpentry trade but when she was in her teen years looking to find a job, women in trades just wasn’t as accepted as it is now.

“I applied for heaps of carpentry apprenticeships back then, and didn’t get one, but landed into landscaping,” she said.

After a few years, Perin moved into an office role as a building estimator but realised sitting at a desk wasn’t fulfilling enough and decided to give carpentry a second chance by applying to study a Certificate III in Carpentry at Chisholm Institute of TAFE.

“I applied for like 50 apprenticeships at a mature age and it was quite hard, being mature age and female I think probably made it a little bit more difficult.

“But I landed an opportunity and I haven’t looked back. I’ve loved every minute of it. I wish I fought a bit harder earlier on in my life to do it because it’s something I probably should have been doing for a lot longer.”

Self belief and determination, Perin said, were the two things that carried her through the rejection.

She knew if “someone gave me a chance, then I knew I could prove to them that it was worth it” even if she was met with some hesitation at moments.

Seeing a shift from 20 years ago when she first considered carpentry to now, Perin said women are given more credit and consideration in the construction industry but there was still a way to go.

“Some people think girls are weak, or girls aren’t strong enough to do this job or things like that.

“Whereas I don’t see it that way. I think there’s so many ways you can do it and if you have a great team around you, there’s plenty of opportunity for girls to bring their strengths to the table.”

Perin said there was also nothing better than meeting another female trade on a job site, even if it was still rare at times.

“All we see is men all day, and then randomly, there’ll be one other female trade doing something and it’s so good, it’s just the best day. I just wish we could have more of it.”

With more women and girls looking to the industry for careers, Perin said visibility would be key to inspiring the next generation because “if you can see it, you can be it”.

“With any career, you need to be realistic that not every day is going to be amazing, and there are hard days with a trade. The work can be quite physical, you’re also battling elements at times, and it’s not always enjoyable.

“But if you can grind through the bad days and be super curious on the good days, you can really succeed in this industry.

“If on the good days, you’re really eager to learn and want to grow and take it all in, anybody can do it because there’s a million ways in building to do a certain task, and no matter your capability, you can always find a way to make it work for you.”

Perin also can’t wait for the day her two-year-old son goes to school and he can tell his teachers and friends that his mum is a chippie.