Stefanie Panko shows her skills at the carpentry Apprentice Challenge competition last weekend. Photo Supplied

The best carpentry apprentices from throughout the Central Otago and Lakes region went hammer to hammer last weekend in Cromwell, as they vied to be named winner of the NZ Certified Builders Regional Apprentice Challenge.

One of the apprentices was a young woman, and one of the judges was Cromwell builder and previous winner, Brie Cook.

Brie won the Regional Apprentice of the Year title in 2021 and went on to compete in the national competition.

She says the experience gave her confidence and really brought home to her that she had what it takes to be a good builder.

“Being up at the nationals and meeting other tradies, both men and women, highlighted how much I’ve learned, all the skills I’ve developed, how much I enjoy building and that I am good at what I do.”

The experience also cemented Brie’s resolve to encourage other women into trades, and she was pleased to see that one of the apprentices competing was a woman.

Stefanie Panko is an apprentice at CBG Quality Construction. She said the competition was a lot of fun, and she enjoyed testing her skills against other apprentices over the eight-hour challenge. Stefanie said she first got into building because she thought it was a valuable skill to learn.

“I was only going to do it to learn to make stuff at home, but I enjoy it so much, and there’s just so many directions you can a building career, I’m here to stay.”

Business owner Clint Gollop says Stef joined them late last year, after a long search for the right candidate.

“It makes good business sense to bring different strengths to the table. Stef carries a lot of the values and skills that we need in the team.

“There’s a real misconception out there that women not being as strong as men is a hindrance, but I disagree with that. Being a good builder is about so much more than physical strength.”

Brie says Stefanie’s fourth placing was testament to her skills.

“Stef’s work through the day clearly demonstrated her knowledgable, methodical, organised approach to working. She was well-prepared, had studied the plans, developed a strategy and even built a jig to ensure accuracy.”

Stefanie had lots of support through the long day of competition. Her boss, partner, son, workmates and friends were all there to cheer her on.

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