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A New World of Engineering

11 Jul 2007

Erin Holmes was always the traditional female; interested in all things pretty and feminine. She also liked working with her hands and turned her creative streak into arts and crafts as an adolescent.

During her secondary school years in Scotland , where she had moved to live with her mother, sister and brother as a seven year-old, Erin , 26, had no clear career goal or ambition. After completing Year 11 in Edinburgh , she worked for British Telecom in a call centre, and in 2001, returned to Melbourne .

She started working in a components manufacturing factory as a process worker making up small motors for electric wheelchairs.

After two years on the production line and enjoying the engineering experience, Erin asked her boss what she could do to enhance her employment opportunities.

He suggested enrolling in an engineering course, and after visiting Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT) to discuss possible courses, Erin enrolled in the Advanced Diploma of Engineering Technology in 2003, albeit on a part-time basis as she continued working in the factory. In 2005, she became a mother to a new baby girl, Amelia, and decided to concentrate on her NMIT studies and left her factory employment.

'I was interested in learning design drafting as I'd always loved drawing and working hands-on,' Erin said. 'At first, returning to study in what people regarded as a male domain was a bit daunting and I was nervous when I took my first step into class. I was the only female, but nobody said anything to me and we all got on well.'

Indeed, Erin abandoned her 'girlie' past, donning dark, blue overalls and only a touch of mascara. She was also unperturbed about getting her hands dirty - and enjoyed the practical aspects of her study program learning how all the different machines worked and what they could do.

'I'm fascinated by engineering and pretty amazed by what all the machines are capable of, especially the robots which NMIT has many of,' Erin said.

'NMIT's Heidelberg campus where I study is equipped with all the latest technology and our workshop practices mean I get to make things that people really need and use. One of the tools I made was a shovel that can turn into a pick and I made all the different parts of it which was exciting when I saw the finished product.'

In her two-year advanced diploma, Erin studies a variety of units such as using hand and power tools, maintaining pneumatic components, producing drawings manually, managing projects, mathematical solutions, scientific principles, principles of mechanics, calculus, CAD(Computer-Aided Drawing) hydraulic principles, robotics system and design mechanical machines.

Advanced Diploma Studies Program Coordinator Ian Brownlie said the course was designed for a broad range of employment outcomes such as design engineering, drafting, supervising and quality manufacturing and developed to meet industry needs in the workplace.

Erin said engineering was creative, where she was learning how to apply her artistic skills, albeit with a different outcome than during her younger years.

'I find it intriguing as to what all the different machines can do and it's fun. I look at what I've made and think, 'Wow, I made this!'

Indeed, Erin said she was surprised to see herself on an engineering career path as it was something she never considered and never thought she would be doing.

'Engineering was not something I knew much about and thought it was for males only. I'm studying physics and maths and it's opened a whole new world for me. Certainly, it can be physically demanding with hydraulics and pneumatics but I'm coping well. It's also mentally demanding and very involved and complex to understand how the machines work.'

While Erin was bored with her call centre employment, she is now constantly challenged to understand how engineering operates and thrives off the new pressures she has to confront.

'It's a juggling act being a mother of a two-year-old and studying at the same time. But the course has changed my life and opened up so many new opportunities for me. I now have a sense of direction of where I'm going and a career to pursue that I really enjoy.'

Moreover, she added there was the option to move ahead to university (her diploma course can be accredited) and while she thought engineering was something men did, ' now I'm doing it and can do it. Initially, I was scared to try something different but now I'm so glad.'


Interview / Photo Opportunity

Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener, on (03) 92691579, 0413 483 182 or

NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) - Situated on seven campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne's north, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce. NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.