How carpentry apprenticeship helped Kiwi woman overcome drug addiction

  • 03/11/2023

A former drug addict says becoming a carpenter and developing a passion for building helped save her life, and she's encouraging more women to follow her lead and embrace the construction industry. 

BCITO/Te Pūkenga apprentice Bex Phillipson had just got on the other side of a "really destructive" methamphetamine addiction when she was offered a building apprenticeship a few years ago.

Speaking to AM on Friday, Phillipson revealed her addiction also became a pathway to dealing - leading to convictions. 

"I was a mum at the time - I had a 7-year-old daughter... when you are addicted to drugs and drug dealing, obviously that leads to Oranga Tamariki getting involved," she said. "So, I surrendered and signed myself up to rehab with the help of my mum to fight to keep custody of my daughter and become a better mum for her. 

Bex Phillipson.
Bex Phillipson. Photo credit: AM

"Then, I was on [a] home detention bracelet and my brother took me in, and I was on a journey of unravelling all the destruction I had caused from being addicted to methamphetamine." 

Luckily, Phillipson said her family surrounded her with support. 

"I definitely don't think I would be where I am today if I didn't have such a loving and supportive family. 

"My mum never gave up on me when I was in the depths of my addiction and she really helped me; she got multiple phone calls from the police saying that I was arrested, and she really just helped pull me out of it and gathered my family together who supported me through rehab and then the very early stages after rehab. 

"It was definitely a bit of a crutch for me to have them help hold me up through it." 

When she did get through it, Phillipson said the chance to take up carpentry gave her "the feeling of having an equal opportunity".

"It's breaking the barriers in a male-dominating industry and it empowers women to have just as much opportunity. 

"There was quite an old-fashioned stigma that construction is for men only and I think it's really empowering for me to be out there, building my strengths and having a say in things." 

While the percentage of women in the construction workforce has increased from just 1 percent in 2015 to 6 percent today, it is still far from the sector's 30 percent goal.   

Phillipson believed she was setting an example for future generations. 

Watch the full video for more.