They used to say the big yellow machines were Tonka Toys for big boys but they can’t say that anymore: move over gentlemen, the ladies are in the cab.
Meet Megan Morley and Lily Sabutsch, both members of Operating Engineers Local 793, and the proud operators of some pretty heavy equipment, who both say their favourite machine is the bulldozer.
“Absolutely, love the dozer,” says Sabutsch, who is an apprentice out of Belle River working in the Windsor, Ont. area. “I’m totally happy driving the dozer. One day I’m aiming for the crane because I don’t have a problem with heights but love the dozer.”
Similarly, Morley also loves the dozer.
“It’s like a tank,” says Morley, 31, of Williamsburg, Ont. who works at Northern Mat and Bridge. “Really, I love the machines. I’m up in the cab, it’s like I’m on vacation. I really don’t feel it is work sometimes.”
Morley says it was her stepfather, also an operator, who suggested she look at getting into the trade.
“I’d worked in the tattoo and piercing industry for a while, worked in government retail-type operation, drove a forklift in a warehouse, but every time I drove by a site and saw those machines I thought, that looks like fun,” she says. “I’ve always been mechanically inclined and I was always the one hanging outside with the guys, so I thought, why not, and applied.”
She wrote the exam in 2015, got called for the interview in 2016 and entered trade school in Morrisburg, Ont. that spring.
The three-and-a-half month course was tough in that she was juggling her life but had an income through Employment Insurance Canada and there were other grants.
“When I graduated it was difficult because it was a bit slow in construction but after about six weeks I was hired out of the hall and I’ve been going ever since,” she says.
Working in a cab on a machine is probably the best part, but like most operators, she feels the extreme cold in the depths of winter and isn’t thrilled with the sticky muds of spring.
“It’s not just operating, of course, you have to clean your tracks, maintain the machines,” she says.
So far, she says, she is still in the honeymoon phase with her career choice.
“I can honestly say there’s nothing I hate about my job, but maybe I’m too new to answer that,” Morley says.
As for being a woman in a male-dominated sector — it is not an issue.
“I’m 5’11” so I look most guys in the eye, I can lift as much as they can so personally it’s been no issue working with guys,” she says. “In fact some of them say they like working with a female operator because we’re more accurate and pay attention to details, which is true for me because I am very meticulous.”
At 20 years old Sabutsch is just on the first steps of a career and is an apprentice operator at Amico Infrastructures working on some of the site prep for the new Gordie Howe bridge connecting Windsor to Detroit.
“Right now I’m operating a small rock truck and sometimes I get to go on the dozer which I love,” she says. “What I like is that it’s a constant learning curve. People are always helping and showing me how to do things which is great.”
Like Morley she’s not thrilled with the weather extremes onsite.
“Yeah, those hot August day and then in the winter when it drops to –20 C or more but you dress for it,” she says.
And like Morley she hasn’t had any issues as a woman onsite.
“No issues with the guys, everyone has been professional,” she says.
“I’m a medium build and 5’8” so I have that going for me. I think the expectation was that sites are a scary place and no place for a women but that hasn’t been the case and I’ve never had any pushback. This is a great path and there are so many opportunities. I’d recommend it to anyone.”