Kris Blacka grew up in Nowra and spent her early career in childcare – but the drive to do something more mechanically-minded led her to the home of nuclear science in Australia.
Her interest led her to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Sydney’s Lucas Heights, where she joined the 2014 Apprenticeship Program as an apprentice fitter and machinist – which has seen Kris recognised for breaking down barriers in a male-dominated field.
The Bomaderry resident was named as the Woman in Non-traditional Trade Apprentice of the Year, at the 2018 Hunter Valley Training Company (HVTC) Excellence Awards.
“Growing up I idolised my father and would tinker with him around our hobby farm, working on the various cars, tractors or machinery we had on the property at the time,” she said.
“When I was younger I’d always wanted to be ‘one of the boys’ – they did all the cool stuff.
“In my early 30’s I thought, ‘what’s stopping me from doing the cool stuff too?’
“I’m just as capable, and have just as much drive and enthusiasm, as anyone else, so I followed my interests towards a ‘non-traditional trade’, completing a pre-apprenticeship in automotive repair.”
For the purposes of the awards, a non-traditional trade is classified as one in which women represent less than a quarter of apprentices or workers.
Miss Blacka, who volunteers her time to act as a role model for young women in STEM, noted the importance of visible role models for her own career trajectory.
“I was drawn to applying for the ANSTO Apprenticeship Program when I was handed a flyer with an image of a young woman working on a mechanical vehicle,” she said.
“Even though the position was for a fitter/machinist and not a vehicle mechanic, it gave me hope – I put my best foot forward and now have an ongoing career at ANSTO.
“I commute the hour and a half each way, from Bomaderry to Lucas Heights and back, and wouldn’t change it for the world because I have found a career at ANSTO which I enjoy greatly.”
Miss Blacka works as a Support Officer in the Computerised Maintenance Management Systems Team, following a rotation in that team in the last year of her apprenticeship.
Support Workshops Manager John Sulman said the award was a reflection of the integral role that Kris and her fellow apprentices have played in the high quality of work performed in the ANSTO Support Workshops.
“Our apprentices are the backbone of our workshops, and Kris, in particular, has done an outstanding job during her time with us, bringing unique talents with her into the team,” Mr Sulman said.
“Her award is extremely well-deserved.
“Not only is Kris a credit to ANSTO, but she is an excellent role model for the women following in her footsteps.”
Regan Beckinsale, Early Career Talent and Development Leader, credited the recognition of ANSTO for a second year running to the range of unique opportunities that ANSTO apprentices get.
“Our Apprenticeship and Traineeship Programs are used to support ongoing workforce needs, grow and develop our future workforce, and provide opportunities for the local community,” she said.
“Our apprentices gain full exposure to on-the-job skills with the opportunity to rotate and experience working in all facets of the ANSTO facility.
“Our apprentice alumni have ended up in all kinds of diverse roles across our site, including ongoing positions in the OPAL Reactor team.”
Miss Blacka has also been nominated for the NSW Training Awards Apprentice of the Year, which will be presented in June.