What’s Carpenter Chelsea’s secret to developing true skills?
- A dream of building her own home led to an unexpected career in construction for Chelsea
- She says true skill comes with repetition and practice – and learning to love the jobs you hate
- In a work boot she looks for practicality, comfort, and one special feature for her toes
When New Zealander Chelsea Roper quit Auckland for Queenstown in early 2018, it was to chase a dream. She and her partner, Dan, wanted to build their own home.
“It’s super expensive in Auckland to either build a house or buy land,” she said. “We looked at the prices in Queenstown because my brother had already moved down there, building his own house, and out of the blue we decided to move too so we could have the same opportunity.”
Little did Chelsea realize just how life-changing that decision would be.
Building new dreams
While both her partner and her brother were builders, Chelsea was a graphic designer by trade, and she struggled to find work in Queenstown.
“So, I decided it was my chance to try something new,” she said. “At the time trades were so understaffed, everyone was screaming out for builders, and because we wanted to build our own home it just made sense. If I was going to help Dan build our house, I would be more useful if I knew what I was doing.”
Chelsea got herself a carpentry apprenticeship with the Building and Construction Industry Training Organization and began working alongside her brother onsite every day, building houses.
“My brother mentored me at the start and gave me a lot of jobs that I guess people don’t normally do when they first start laboring,” she said. “I did lots of nailing off weatherboards with rose head nails. I was working with steel a lot, tying steel.”
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A career in construction begins
Chelsea took to construction like a duck to water.
“I just loved being outside all day, enjoying the sun and getting a tan, working with my hands,” she said. “You’re always doing something different, and there’s the visual progress — you start with an empty piece of land, at the end there’s a house, and you’re like, ‘I helped do that’.”
Chelsea eventually set up an Instagram account, She Builds Bro, to document her career progress and to encourage other women to consider trades. While women make up less than three per cent of the construction workforce in New Zealand, Chelsea said women were actually a common sight on building sites in Queenstown. She knows female Electricians, Roofers, Painters and Cabinetmakers.
“I think it’s because Queenstown is such a tourist town; you come across a lot of people from other parts of the world who come here for working holidays, and they’re working in trades,” she said.
Developing the skills to be the best
In the years since taking up her trade, Chelsea has been building her skills by tackling every job that’s given to her — including some quite tricky and technical ones.
“There was one big job I was working on that had 26 of these particular door handles that I had to install,” she said. “They were quite complex. Instead of just a little hole they had quite a big box you had to cut out and you kind of had to slot them together. A lot of builders will get qualified having never installed one of these. The guy gave them to me and said, ‘there are instructions; you’ll figure it out’. It was quite a daunting task at the start but at the end I was so proud of the work I’d done. They looked so good. I tagged the company on Instagram, and they were like, ‘OK, we’re going to call you one of our accredited installers, because that is such good work’.”
A sense of pride and achievement
Chelsea has some advice for young people just starting out in their trade.
“If you’re given something and you hate it or you’re not sure about it, with repetition and practice you’ll really start to enjoy it, because you know what you’re doing,” she said. “It’s a bit like a language; you can’t just speak it on day one. It takes time to become fluent.”
That was Chelsea’s experience with nailing weatherboard cladding. Though she didn’t enjoy it at first, it’s now her favorite job on site.
“You’re literally taking a house that looks like a construction site and covering it up and making it look like a finished product; you’re making it look like a home,” she said.
So, the move to Queenstown accidentally gave Chelsea a new and unexpected career in construction and a following on Instagram, but did she ever get to build the house that started it all?
“Yes!” she said. “We started in December 2019, and we moved in around March 2021. Absolutely everything we could do ourselves, we did ourselves.”
Why Chelsea loves Steel Blue work boots
It was Chelsea’s popularity on Instagram that lead to her discovering Steel Blue work boots. She was doing a photo shoot with workwear company Bisley and they handed her a pair of Steel Blue boots to wear in the pictures. She fell in love with how comfortable they are to wear.
“I love the boots that I wear,” she said. “They’re the women’s 719s (Southern® Cross Zip). I love that the back is low, but the sides are quite high, so you still get the ankle support without cutting your Achilles off when you bend your ankle. They look really nice, and they have the rubber protection (Scuff Cap) on the toes. I refuse to purchase boots that don’t have that, because they just get ruined so quickly and you end up having your caps exposed.”
***Please note that not all boots are available in all regions***
Our women’s safety boots are made to fit every trade, find out more here.