July 28, 2008

Jennifer Moffett, 28, the Health and Safety Co-ordinator at All Canada Cranes, says being a woman in the construction sector can be a challenge.

Jennifer Moffett, 28, the Health and Safety Co-ordinator at All Canada Cranes, says being a woman in the construction sector can be a challenge.

Young women get hooked on careers as crane operators

You might say Lee Goodfellow got hooked on cranes almost by default.

She’d been working in the office at Cooper Crane Rental in Oshawa with her husband, Ray, who was the general manager there, when it dawned on her that she should start the process to get her operator’s licence.

“There are always cranes that needed moving around the yard here and there,” says Goodfellow, 38, who earned her 339A mobile crane licence in 2006.

“So I thought I should go ahead and do it.”

She started working on the three-stage process in late 2005 and instead of taking the course, simply wrote the tests and took the skills demonstration examination.

In all it took her less than six months to get her ticket through the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793’s Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario.

More recently, she and her husband have signed on with KR Wind, an international crane company that specializes in the installation of wind turbines and has expanded its Canadian operations as wind energy attracts more investment.

With the 339A ticket she’s qualified to maintain and operate mobile cranes capable of raising, lowering or moving material weighing more than 16,000 pounds with a lifting capacity of more than 15 tons or 13,636 kilograms.

It’s good for both the mobile, or wheeled version of cranes and the crawler, which has tracks on it and is transported by flatbed truck to and from sites.

While operating a crane doesn’t require physical strength — more of a steady hand and a good eye — setting up does get physical, she says.

As in all construction trades, women are unrepresented in the crane industry and recently the Canadian Crane Rental Association listened to a presentation from Women Building Futures, an Alberta-based organization which is reaching out to recruit women into the industry.

CEO of WBF Judy-Lynn Archer says construction jobs like crane operators are well-paying position that would help many single moms and other underemployed women break free of poverty and low-paying jobs.

“It’s about getting the right women into the right trades so they stay with it,” she says.

“We have women working in very physical jobs like boilermaking and there’s no reason why they couldn’t work as crane operators. We just need to find them and train them.”

Jennifer Moffett, 28, the Health and Safety Co-ordinator at All Canada Cranes, says being a woman in the construction sector can be a challenge.

“I have a pair of pink workboots I wear on site,” she says. “It’s usually a pretty good ice-breaker.”

She drifted into the crane business after working part- time at All Canada Cranes while going to university and eventually ended up in health and safety.

“A lot of older operators don’t always like it when I tell them they have to do things a certain way even though they’ve done it the same way for 30 years,” she says.

“Some of that is because I’m a woman, some of it is because I’m young and they don’t always think I know what I’m talking about. Then I start quoting the code and the law and they get it.”

She says many construction workers are still getting used to the idea of seeing women in a non-traditional job.

“I think the worst is when you can see they’re self-censoring themselves,” she says. “It’s not like I’ve never heard a crude joke.”

Still she wouldn’t change a thing and says she’d encourage any woman to think about a trade as a career.

And that’s just what Tiffany Withers, 23, has done. She’s entering her second year of apprenticeship as an operator at All Canada Cranes and says she loves it.

After going to college to study computers, she says, she decided sitting at a desk in front of a screen wasn’t going to cut it.

“My family works in heavy equipment and my brother is an ironworker so I was around the trades a lot ,” she says. “I wanted to get into a Red Seal trade so I chose cranes.”

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