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Celebrating women in construction

Posted: 08 Mar 2019

The click of high heels on the courtroom steps used to mark the start of Michelle Belizia’s work day as an employment support worker in the justice system.

Today it’s the beep of a reversing truck mingled with the roar and crunch of an excavator that provides the soundtrack as she strides onto a construction site at Ballan Station, on the Ballarat rail line.

Michelle is one of eight women who have been recruited to the Women in Construction program, an initiative of the consortium contracted by the Victorian Government to build the Ballarat Line Upgrade.

The consortium - made up of Lendlease, Coleman Rail and SMEC in partnership with V/Line and Rail Projects Victoria – has been working on the half-a-billion dollar project for the past year.

The Women in Construction program was launched late last year to encourage more women to take up hands-on roles on the project.

The women, recruited through Jobs Victoria for the program, had never worked in the rail construction industry before.

“When I was asked to do this position I really didn’t think I could do it,” Michelle says.

“I’ve been here four months now and I don’t think I’d go back to an office now – I love it. Every day is different, there’s always something to learn.”

Michelle and her fellow recruits are completing a Certificate III in Civil Construction as apprentices while also learning the fundamentals of rail construction on the job.

Her colleague Amanda Glasser has also come from office jobs in recruitment and human resources, and is now passionate about encouraging other women to get into construction.

“I totally changed my career and became a blue-collar worker at the age of 50. I’m a champion for women on the Ballarat Line Upgrade and absolutely loving it.”

Amanda says women can’t always do every task on site, but often work practices can be adjusted to cater to women’s strengths and talents.

“We’re lucky that….employers on the Ballarat Line Upgrade are looking at adapting the workplace so that women can be a part of it.”

With a huge pipeline of rail infrastructure projects in Victoria over the next decade, the women are highly likely to continue with their current employers following completion of the program, or to move into other roles within the industry.

The program has been so successful that the construction consortium partners are now planning to replicate it across other major infrastructure projects.

Program participant Nicole Woods had some experience as a panel beater and truck driver, but had never worked in rail construction. She is now loving her job on the Ballarat Line Upgrade, operating heavy machinery like loaders and excavators.

“It’s just so much fun, playing in the dirt,” she says, laughing.

She points out that having more women on construction sites benefits the men as well, as many feel more comfortable talking to female colleagues about problems or stresses.

“Just having that mix makes so much difference to the whole environment. I think it’s good for everyone.”

While the aim of the program was to encourage more women to take up boots-on-the-ground construction roles, there are also women working in a range of other disciplines across the Ballarat Line Upgrade project.

The 42 women employees on the project are in roles including engineering, sustainability, quality control, procurement and project management.

Those involved in the Women in Construction program say it’s a fantastic opportunity, even for those who have not considered rail construction as a career path before.

“Honestly, if you think you can’t do it you can - one hundred per cent,” Michelle says. “Just give it a go, keep the right attitude and you’ll be able to do this.”

Amanda wants more young women to take on the challenges and rewards of working in construction.

“These young girls have got to be aware that if they want to work on the line they can. We’re breaking the barriers for them - so they need to step up and start applying.”

For more information, see Ballarat Line Upgrade.