WinA Member of the Month
This month, we are featuring Shai Copelin.
Shai currently works for the Product Group at TAFE in the automotive section. In her Q&A, she talks about her early experiences in the automotive industry and the challenges she's faced, such as pay inequality.
Know of someone you would like to see featured as our next Women in Automotive Member of the Month, or interested in sharing your own automotive story? Get in touch below and let us know.
Tell us a bit about your current role or involvement in the automotive industry.
Currently, I work for the Product Group at TAFE in the automotive section. I am part of a team responsible for creating innovative learning and assessment technology products across all areas of automotive.
What was your first professional experience within the automotive industry?
My first experience is a funny one, I use to wash dust off of tyres at a small tyre repair place that was connected to the servo my mum worked at. At the time I thought the work I was doing was very important to the trade, it had to be given I was paid 5c per tyre. Later in life I’ve come to realise that no one washed tyres and they were really just keeping me off the driveway. I suppose this experience created in me a sense of importance around pride in hard work and the value of money.
My first professional experience in automotive was when I attended a trade night. It was there that I met my future employer who offered me and a couple of other students the opportunity to do a trial at their business. At the end of my trial week, I was offered the apprenticeship we were all competing for.
Do you think you have experienced challenges within the industry that your male counterparts have not?
In my earlier years I would mostly tell people “No, I hold my own". I think this was because I’d heard stories from others that seemed far worse. However, I’ve definitely experienced some challenges of my own. I wasn't friends with everyone in my classes, but I did make some friends that are still my mates today. My peers treated me like any other peer however, I was often asked about my sexuality by teachers, customers and even a local hairdresser. In their minds, my sexuality had to be part of the reason why I became a mechanic. Female teachers told me at the start of my apprenticeship that I would not attract a husband in this trade. I have come to figure out those people are very, very small minded because careers have nothing to do with one’s sexuality.
There were other instances as well, for example when I was asked to assist in the office and when I asked why the others, namely the boys, couldn’t have a turn, the reply was “I don’t think they are smart enough”. My reply was that I'm not the solution to poor management (remember that in any workplace, ladies)!
Once, we had a new team member join who I had gone to TAFE with. Despite him and I having equal experience on paper, and the fact that he often did poor work that I was then assigned to fix, he was paid more than me. When I brought up that this was unfair, the feedback I received was that because he was male, he wouldn't be taking maternity leave in the future and he had a family to provide for. My reply was that that shouldn’t make a difference as I did the same amount of work and was entitled to take maternity leave. I found another job that paid me according to my worth not my gender. The experience I gained in that dealership (both good and bad) really excelled my career forward within the automotive industry.
What is your biggest achievement within the automotive industry, personal or professional?
Within the automotive industry, my biggest achievement is the reputation that I have garnered among the community for my skills, knowledge and work ethic. I have won many awards, including the Service Excellence Star while working Roadside with NRMA, the Long Tan leadership award and the NSW Regional Apprentice of the Year award.
My biggest personal achievements are my two beautiful kids. I am very proud to be raising a daughter to know that her possibilities in this world are endless. I am also currently in the process of rebuilding my home workshop to facilitate all my Classic Mini builds. Classic Mini dailies and racing are my passion!
Professionally, my biggest achievement is that I am certified in light automotive mechanical, automotive electrical and automotive air-conditioning. I also have a diploma in Leadership and Management and would like to further my education by doing a Bachelor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
Do you have a favorite resource as a woman working in the automotive industry? Maybe a book, event, organization, mentor, or online platform?
There are so many, I am defiantly going to miss some, but there are some great social media groups for women in racing, tech, etc. And obviously the support, mentorship and learning you can get through TAFE. The teaching network provides strong industry currency, connection, and a wealth of knowledge all under one roof. We support the learnings of all AUR trades and are focused on promoting equal opportunity for all students.
Who is your inspiration as a female in automotive?
I don’t really have one. I think any female who has excelled against the odds of their time is amazing. They display resilience, courage and determination and have set the path for women to be anything they want. If I could pick a female movie character that I idolize, it's the head mechanic Audrey Ramirez from the movie Atlantis - she is a vibe.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received or that you could give to another woman working in the automotive industry?
My first piece of advice is to find a good mentor. Remember that they don’t even have to be in the automotive industry and your first mentor doesn't have to be your only or last either.
My second piece of advice for looking at the automotive industry as a career path is to just do it! If it interests you, don’t worry about what other people think or say because it's your life, not theirs. If you have drive and passion, you can learn the capability. The future is changing quickly and women are being sourced by key players in the industry for the skillset only we can bring to the trade.
My final piece of advice is to know when you have outgrown your company. To further your skillset you need to keep growing and sometimes you can't do that at one place and that’s okay. Know your rights in the workplace and keep learning. I follow a 10/80/10 rule: 10% of my time learning a new skill, 80% of my time practicing current skills and 10% of my time being involved in the automotive community (whether it’s competing, mentoring, or volunteering).
Overall, be the change you wish to see in the world!