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Sarah Brunton: Tradie trailblazer

Sarah Brunton: Tradie trailblazer

With years of hands‐on experience across the construction, mining and oil and gas industries, Sarah Brunton now dedicates herself to nurturing and advocating for the next wave of electrical trades professionals.

Growing up in the Northern Territory, Sarah Brunton always had a penchant for adventure, enjoying travel and other outdoor pursuits. Throughout her education, she was drawn to technical subjects, particularly those traditionally dominated by males such as metalwork and woodwork, driven by her affinity for practical work.

“I was often the only female in these classes,” says Brunton. “As I progressed through high school, I encountered resistance when I expressed interest in pursuing similar subjects at a senior level.”

Despite being told that fields like mechanics or welding wouldn’t serve her well in life, Brunton stood her ground. With the unwavering support of her mother, she not only pursued these subjects but excelled in them.

After finishing school, Brunton ventured to Queensland in pursuit of a trade, as opportunities were scarce in Darwin. “My mind was open to various options, from electrical work to aircraft mechanics; my primary goal was simply to work with my hands and fix things,” she says. “After a short stint with a company in Queensland, I then relocated to Sydney, where the pre-2000 Olympics construction boom provided ample opportunities in the construction sector.”

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Although her initial role didn’t align perfectly with her aspirations, Brunton’s determination, bolstered by support from her local union, guided her towards a more suitable position. She completed her electrical fitter mechanical trade training at a steelworks in Wollongong before setting her sights on new challenges and adventures.

Brunton’s career took her to mines and gas plants in the Pilbara, where she eagerly absorbed knowledge from seasoned professionals and tackled diverse technical challenges. Despite facing numerous obstacles along the way, she remained resilient and persistent, forging her path in the electrical trades industry.

“Throughout my journey, I encountered many fascinating individuals and skilled tradesmen who generously imparted their technical expertise and invested their time in my development,” she says.

“Their guidance not only enriched my understanding but also fuelled my desire to explore firsthand the experiences they shared, such as working underground or in remote regions across Australia.

“Consequently, I’ve consistently pursued such opportunities throughout my career.”

In 2016, Brunton’s career trajectory shifted as she transitioned into a role as a trainer, back in the NT. Motivated by a desire to contribute to the industries that had enriched her life with invaluable experiences such as travel, portable skills, qualifications and knowledge, she dedicated herself to educating apprentices in electrotechnology at the local TAFE. Brunton found herself tasked with training electrical students across various sectors, from construction to mining, all within one classroom setting.

Additionally, towards the end of this tenure, she took on another role with a registered training organisation (RTO), specialising in offshore safety training – a crucial skillset for those working on oil rigs and offshore. “I cherished my time as a trainer, but the opportunity to step into my current role was too compelling to pass up,” says Brunton.

Now serving as the national technical officer at the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), Brunton advocates for workers across various industry sectors in the electrical field. Her responsibilities span developing technical content for the vocational education sector, contributing to Australian standards, and participating in federal government consultations to reform qualifications, ensuring the continued excellence and safety of electrical trades professionals nationwide.

“As the first national technical officer at the ETU, I take immense pride in this accomplishment, particularly as a woman,” says Brunton. “I am also proud to participate in the way Australian standards are formulated, be a board member of the NT Electrical Licensing Board, and advocate for increased female participation in trades, particularly electrical.”

Brunton’s contributions have been recognised by the trades industry, with the Lady Tradies And Rocking Chicks organisation nominating her for the Tradie Trailblazer award at the 2024 Empowered Women in Trades Awards and Gala for her dedication to mentoring women in the electrical trades field. She expresses pride in being recognised as a finalist for this award, emphasising the importance of visibility in inspiring others: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

Sarah Brunton at the 2024 Empowered Women in Trades Awards and Gala. (Image: Supplied by Sarah Brunton)
Sarah Brunton at the 2024 Empowered Women in Trades Awards and Gala. (Image: Supplied by Sarah Brunton)

“As experienced women within various industries, including myself, continue to share our stories and experiences, we empower and inspire young women considering entry into trades,” says Brunton. “This encouragement extends beyond electrical work to all technical trades.”

“I urge women not to shy away from these opportunities, as they offer valuable and rewarding experiences.”

Contemplating her journey, Brunton admits that if someone had foretold her 25 years ago, as a 19-year-old apprentice, where she would stand today, she would likely have run in the opposite direction. “I couldn’t have fathomed anything worse than writing long documents,” she says. “Yet, ironically, it has come full circle.”

Now, Brunton finds fulfillment in contributing to the broader scope of trades through the ETU and industry boards, lengthy documents included.

Throughout her professional journey, Sarah Brunton has encountered numerous closed doors and obstacles. However, she has learned to persist, whether by nudging them open or kicking them down – a philosophy she believes to be the key to success.

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