Locksmith Turned Teacher Finds New Niche
Natalie Ball, locksmith and teacher.
After running her own business across Victoria, locksmith Natalie Ball has found a new niche applying her locksmithing skills as a TAFE teacher through Melbourne Polytechnic’s ‘trainer under supervision programme’, which offers hands-on experience in the classroom.
According to Ball, TAFE teaching has been an opportunity for her to share her craft and pass on many years of on-the-job experience to the next generation of locksmiths in a practical setting.
“I love engaging with people and making a difference,” Ball said. “As a teacher, it’s been rewarding to be able to help people. Teaching is a continual challenge, which is exactly what I need to stay stimulated.”
Ball’s passion for locksmithing came from a childhood spent in her parents’ suburban hardware store and her father inspired her to pursue a trade after seeing her thrive with the practical experience in the shop.
Ball undertook her qualifications aged 21, studying nights at Melbourne Polytechnic. After trade school, she went on to secure a position with Chubb Safes as a safe technician. A woman establishing herself in a male-dominated industry, Ball reflects on some difficult times.
“I grew up surrounded by males – with my dad and brother in the hardware store, I was used to that environment – but it’s confronting when you’re thrown into a male-dominated setting,” she said. “I found myself laughing my way through times when I should have stood up for myself and said “no, that’s not right”.
As a result, Ball is no stranger to challenges in the workplace, but she says there were advantages to being a woman in a male-dominated profession.
“I’ve found in locksmithing you have to navigate people and very different situations,” she explains. “It could be a domestic violence situation, where a woman might feel more comfortable with another woman doing their locks for them.
“Being able to address sensitive situations like this is a very good skill to have and you’re earning people’s trust. That side of locksmithing involves being compassionate, using people skills and social skills. Having all of that really does give you a huge confidence boost, knowing that you’re capable of doing all those sorts of things.”
During Ball’s early years of work, she remembers a culture of leaders insulting their young tradies in a misguided attempt to get them to work harder. Instead, it would often make them feel worthless and doubt their abilities.
“Thankfully, things have changed now, and I’m also glad there’s more support for women who are coming into the industry,” she says.
According to Ball, locksmithing is a diverse profession.
“A lot of people think it’s just cutting keys – it’s not,” she says. “You can specialise in automotive, or safe work, being a safe technician, or working on houses or commercial alarms. There are so many different areas of locksmithing that you can go into and not be bored with. Your skillset is very broad.”
Ball says returning to Melbourne Polytechnic to teach has been a great option for her as an industry expert wanting to pursue a new career path.
“My favourite thing about being a teacher is how fun it is,” she says. “I find it rewarding when a student has hit a wall and, with some patience and gentle encouragement, they improve in leaps and bounds. You can really see that they’re proud of themselves and that for me is a fantastic thing to be a part of.”