Visible difference

Carpenter and site supervisor Bailee Major believes in working hard - and being a role model for younger females in the building industry. By Lynne Testoni

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Sometimes it’s the road less travelled, or the unexpected career choice, that has the biggest effect. This is certainly true for carpenter and site supervisor Bailee Major, who left a university degree to undertake a carpentry apprenticeship.

Major’s determination and commitment to her craft have set her on the road to success and earned her accolades, including the 2022 HIA South Australia Tradeswoman of the Year and Exceptional Young Woman in Industry awards.
Like many young women who did well at school, she says that she expected to go to university, enrolling in a double master’s degree, in human movement and secondary teaching.

“I did what I thought was the right thing to do at that age and at that time in my life,” she explains. “But I soon realised that I was facing a huge HECS debt and another four to six years of study in order to get myself a job in my industry.”

Major says this realisation made her rethink her future. “I decided that I wasn’t passionate enough to do that. And I’ve always loved being quite hands-on and outdoorsy, and always built things and had tools tinkering around home. I thought, ‘Why can’t I do an apprenticeship?’”

Which is what she did, working with a local builder while training, before starting her own business B Claire Carpentry.
“I did an apprenticeship with a small local building business in the Barossa Valley, South Australia and I really enjoyed it,” she says. “It was a small carpentry business, and it gave me the opportunity to get on the tools and try a lot of different things. We worked in framing, decking—everything from modular homes to townhouses, new builds to renovations and that really set me up to pursue my own business once I finished.”

B Claire gave Major more visibility within the building industry, partly because the business’s social media accounts became very popular. “It just blew up on Instagram and that gave me a really good profile, some attention online and people wanted to know more about me,” she says.
She agrees this is largely because female carpenters are still a minority and considered almost a novelty. “I never want to blame the construction industry, but it’s a man’s world,” she says.

Nevertheless, she’s seen a lot of change in the last few years. “I think times are changing now and there are more of us in these male-dominated industries because if I can do it, then anybody can. I often say, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’.”

Her social media account has certainly helped to make her somewhat of a role model, she adds. “A lot of women and young girls in schools were messaging me on social media saying they wanted to work in construction too and asking how I did it, so my business opened up a new stage. I’m not very tech savvy, but it created another portal for me, and I ran my own business for a couple of years on the tools and then online as well.”

During COVID, Major had the opportunity to undertake a site supervisory role with Sarah Constructions in Adelaide. A large commercial building company, Sarah has helped to give her an insight into larger projects and experience in working with bigger teams.

She has relished the challenge. “They’ve got a lot of great projects and they’ve given me the opportunity to be on their team and supervise some commercial work, which is really exciting,” she says. “I’m learning a lot.
“One of my favourite things about this industry is that it’s never the same. It’s great fun. I think that coming from a carpentry background I can frame, I can do decking, I can hang doors—but being able to now touch base with a lot of different trades is different.
“I work quite closely with different trades depending on whatever stage the build’s at. Everything is bigger and better in commercial. It’s just a whole different ballgame when coming from a residential background doing small homes, to working on large, multistorey buildings.”

The building industry is changing and it’s not just about the increased participation of women, says Major. She welcomes the move towards higher standards in occupational health and safety, which benefit all genders.
“People have often questioned if I am strong enough to do certain tasks,” she says. “And I always say, ‘If I’m not big enough, would you let a young lad slip a disc on his back trying to lift this?’ You’ve got a no-days-off kind of stigma around this issue, but we have to create a safe industry for all individuals whether they are male or female.
“A big issue on sites and in the industry is mental health,” she continues. “And it’s something that is now changing. I think that no matter who you are, no matter what your workplace is, that’s the kind of stuff that every industry needs to take seriously.”