Building bridges

Lori forges a promising career as a welder

By Sharon Murphy - AiGTS

There was a time where woman were not welcome on a construction site – or if they were they were treated as “one of the boys.”

But those days are over. Everyone now has an equal chance regardless of gender.

Tradespeople like Lori Spiers are now a common sight in the once male-dominated workplace.

The fourth year apprenticeship boilermaker is the only female in the workforce currently on the West Gate Bridge Project.

Lori, 27, who lives at Lal Lal (near Ballarat) in Victoria, is employed as an apprentice by Australian Industry Group Training Services (AiGTS) and is hosted by the John Holland company.

Lori joined AiGTS as an Out of Trader in June 2010 after successfully passing the first of a series of specific welding tests to undertake work on the Bridge.

The West Gate Bridge Strengthening Alliance is a unique project of which John Holland is a construction partner.

With eight platforms suspended under the Bridge and about 400 tradespeople working inside and underneath the Bridge, it is not hard to notice Lori’s long flowing blond hair.

Welding first felt “right” for Lori when she gained employment as an assistant to the tradesmen with a former engineering company.

She enjoyed working with tools. She also enjoyed the variety that goes with the job.

“I was approached a couple of times by the team I was working for at the time and encouraged to take on an adult apprenticeship, says Lori. “I was 24 then and adamantly said no at first.”

Lori thought it was too late to start a “real career” with an apprenticeship at 24.

She then paid respect to the strong words of support made by her team.

Lori was assured she would gain much from an apprenticeship.

“Everyone was so supportive and confident of me, Lori says. “It was easy to get going and start the apprenticeship. Turns out, it was the best thing I ever did”.

But when she was well into the apprenticeship, her employer went into liquidation. Lori was not sure where to turn.

“I was going to give up the apprenticeship, she says. “It was just as easy then to decide not to complete it.”

But before making a final decision to quit she started writing resumes and began applying for other work.

“I often felt my resume and written application wasn’t as strong as other applicants, says Lori. “But I felt a lot better once I was meeting people for interviews.”

Lori concedes that some interview processes are “intense.”

But the experience made her more open minded and realistic about her future.

When the opportunity came up to work with AiGTS, Lori was eager to find out more about the John Holland group.

“Naturally, I was excited when I got the job, Lori says. “John Holland carries out a lot of civil construction work. The West Gate Bridge Strengthening Alliance is a unique project and I’m so proud to be working on one of the platforms and be part of such a large team to work under and inside the Bridge. I most enjoy the welding process of the Project and the ability to be able to work well with my hands.”

Previously, tough working conditions and lack of facilities for women in non-traditional trades were a deterent for female apprentices.

And today many industries are still dominated by male tradesman. But the situation is slowly changing.

“It is a great opportunity to work with the very best”, Lori says. “Times have changed a lot, she says.

“Where I work, every guy here seems to have a sister or wife. When I see them, they are all fantastic to me. Everyone is interested in what I do. They are so friendly and encouraging”.

Lori says the working conditions at John Holland are excellent.

“You have to be willing and confident to do the work and fit in with the people, she says. “I feel very equal. I work just as hard to get here as everybody else. I don’t feel any different and I would like to think any other female boilermakers out there would agree. I have lunch with the boys. I have regular toolbox talks. Whatever I do, they do … and
vice versa”.

Lori isn’t from a long line of boilermakers.

Her husband is a design draftsman and her brother is studying law.

But Lori’s parents are proud of her career choice.

She has been recognised by AiGTS through the West gate Bridge Strengthening Alliance as the first female welder to work on the West Gate Bridge’.

“Yes, I am the only female working on the tools, Lori quietly admits. “It was so good to be the first female to work on the Bridge, but it seems to be a big deal to everybody else … but not as much for me.”

Lori has ambitious plans for the future.

“I don’t plan to weld forever, she says. “I would like to get some welding tickets which will enable me to gain more advanced skills and opportunity to be more involved in the industry.”

Though work on the West Gate Bridge will one day end, Lori admits she enjoys project work – having “a start and finish to something.”

“It’s the process in between that makes you feel like you’ve accomplished and achieved a lot.”

Lori is thrilled with the experience she has already gained with working on such a high profile job and is full of praise for her crew, supervised by Alan Rhoden.

“Lori is determined to succeed in a male dominated trade, says Alan. “She is happy to kick off the boots at the end of the week and slip on the high heels.”

Lori has no immediate plans when she is fully qualified.

“I am on a project that will come to an end, Lori says. “In this line of work (being construction) it requires you to be flexible. This means you need to go from job to job.”

Lori is looking forward to a future project allowing her to use her skills and keep learning.

She offers some simple advice for other females considering an apprenticeship career:

“Apprenticeships are worth it. Opportunities are endless.”

When she is not working Lori spends most of her spare time at her home property.

“I was once a foreman of a racing stable, she says. “I’m no longer working for the racing stable, but I still spend a lot of time with my two quarter horses.”

Lori admits she doesn’t do much welding at home.

“But I certainly enjoy being able to make and do things around the place when I need to … even for my family.”

Lori recently received an Award for Excellence – Fabrication Trade from University of Ballarat and was also congratulated and given a $250 cheque by AiGTS.

Ph: 1300 761 944