Apprenticeships, Mechanics, Polytechnic, Profiles, Skills and training, TAFE

How apprentice Bonnie became a Supercars star

From bartending to working on supercars, Bonnie Inkster is a shining example of what happens when you drown out background noise and pursue your dreams.

Building on fundamental welding skills, she shows how apprentices, given the right support and training, can help shape a future industry.

Image: supplied by Bonnie Inkster

Wired in

In a male dominated industry, Bonnie has done well to make a name for herself. With seven years of welding experience under her belt, her desire to become a role model for the younger generation in the automotive industry is one to find inspirational.

Winning the EWIT Apprentice of the Year Award in February this year, Bonnie has even more motivation to her develop her skills and master her craft.

ICYMI: Apprentices, EVs score big in Budget

Bonnie beat five other finalists in the apprentice of the year category to take out the award.

“I couldn’t believe it when I got it. Very humbling and overwhelming,” Bonnie said.

Empowered Women in Trades (EWIT) is a community for females in the automotive and wider industries that aims to raise female representation and in turn help solve some of the skills shortages.

“I recently got on to EWIT and they have Facebook pages and get togethers for females in the industry to connect. There’s more community around it now and more support from other women than there was 10 years ago,” Bonnie said.

Image: supplied by Bonnie Inkster

Right spark

Bonnie’s path to supercars as a welder and fabricator for Walkinshaw Andretti United took a few years, but it has been a rewarding turn of events.

“When I finished high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So, I just stuck with bartending for a few years,” Bonnie said.

“One day I was watching the supercars on the TV at work, and I went, I’m going to do that. So, I packed two suitcases, flew down to Melbourne, signed myself up at a motorsport course at the Kangan Institute, and started my first trade there,” Bonnie said.

“After that I got a job in motorsport with a team. And from there, I wiggled my way into the fabrication side of things and really enjoyed it.

“I decided to get my trade certificate as it is more appealing than not having one. That way I learnt more skills as well. After the certificate I got a job working with another motorsport team which is where I currently am.”

The opportunities available at Kangan Institute and Chisholm Institute helped guide Bonnie to reach her full potential.

“My first trade was at the Kangan Institute, and that was at the Automotive Centre of Excellence at Docklands,” she said.

“I thought both the Kangan Institute and the Chisholm Institute had amazing facilities; I couldn’t believe it. I enjoyed my time at both the Institutes. I learnt a lot of skills along the way.”

Image: Joni Anderson

Start your engines

Some of the new technological advancements in the automotive industry haven’t quite reached Bonnie’s part of the profession, but she will be well prepared to adjust when the time arrives for an electrical, greener future.

“The motorsport sector hasn’t seen much of a change,” she said.

“I’m not saying that we’re not expecting it. I’m certain at some point down the track, there’ll be talks of hybrid vehicles or electric vehicles.”

Being one of only two females in some of her training courses, the guide for females in motorsports, and in the industry as a whole is slowly becoming more appealing to young women.

“Yeah, I’m certain that the male to female ratio it is getting better,” Bonnie said.

“You know, sometimes you may be one of two females within your class. But it is definitely growing, which is good to see.”

While the number of females entering the industry has steadily risen in the last decade, there is also work to do in retaining the female staff already established in the industry.

“They’re doing as much as they can to help women get into the industry,” Bonnie said.

“But I think it also needs to be about retaining the women already in the industry as well.”

“It would be great to work on both aspects, not just getting people in. Because in the past, I’ve lost my job during COVID, and it was just like being thrown off a cliff.”

Fitting in

Bonnie’s journey to welding and fabricating was challenging at times. Dealing with unhelpful remarks and discouraging comments only made her desire to succeed stronger.

“I have had companies in the past where there’s been comments directed from management saying things like you’ll never be taken seriously,” she said.

“It’s a kick to the guts, especially when you’re trying something new that you don’t know if you’re going to succeed at.”

“I’m stubborn and I’ve learnt from it. I shouldn’t have put up with an average workplace environment. But if I didn’t put up with it, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m very appreciative of the path that I’ve taken regardless.”

“The team I am at now is great. Everyone looks out for everyone, and we can all be ourselves which is refreshing.”

Despite her colourful experience in the industry so far, her love of modifying and building Supercars, along with her resilient attitude, always drew her back in.

Having role models to look up to and feel supported by was a key factor in believing that her career goals were achievable, especially in the beginning.

“I’ve had some great male colleagues who have acted as role models in the past,” Bonnie said.

“On the motorsport side of things there are very few women in the sport as mechanics. There are no fabricators that I’m aware of.

“When I was just starting out there was one person who I looked up to in supercars at the time. Her name was Janelle, and she was amazing at her job.”

Setting the standard

The guarantee that motorsports and the automotive industry is always evolving leaves little room for complacency. Inkster’s attitude ensures she won’t fall into that trap.

“Welding is an ever-changing job. There are so many standards, and they are constantly being updated,” Bonnie said.

“I have recently been signed off on my apprenticeship. But to me, it’s not done. If someone came up to me and said, we want you to learn this, I’ll jump at the opportunity to take it. The more I can learn, the better it is for me. There are so many people out there that want to teach people.”

Learning, growing and adapting to new environments are all part of Inkster’s success in the industry. It is no surprise that there is a similar theme to her advice for the younger generation.

“Be yourself and learn as much as you can. It is important to remember that when you are new, you don’t know everything,” Bonnie said.

“Even I don’t know everything now, I’m still learning from the guys that I work with and vice versa.”

Even though welding is a practical and a ‘hands on’ job, there is still a theory component that Inkster embraces and takes in her stride.

“I still try and read up as much as I can about different aspects of welding, or a new technique, or even just trying to find the right settings for your machine. Sometimes I’ll find myself diving into the manual and reading about a couple of things just to try and tweak my welding skills. It is not just a hands-on job,” Bonnie said.

The road ahead

Gaining extra knowledge and qualifications is always on Bonnie’s radar.

“I love what I do, and I really enjoy it. So, I may look into doing my certification four which will give me additional knowledge on machines and CNC stuff,” she said.

“I just want to keep learning. Venturing overseas for fabrication in motorsport would also be pretty cool.”

Inkster is one to watch, with plans to continue developing her skills in the welding industry, she has hopes on becoming a role model for the future generations.

“I’m hoping that I’m a role model for other women, or younger females wanting to come into the industry and the sport. It has been a bit of a full circle there.”

Send this to a friend