When you hear trucks referred to as “men, boys and girls”, then you know the owner is truly passionate and compassionate about her career as a Mobile Elevated Work Platform (MEWP) truck hire owner/operator. Western Australia’s Ruth McWilliam is proving that resilience, vision and hard work can help anyone forge a career in an industry they love, even when business slows down.
What is it about your role you enjoy the most?
When I see one of my trucks drive past on the road my heart races with excitement and I literally struggle to breathe.
This business continues to be my life and my passion. More than ever. Words cannot explain the hard work; the risks (physically, mentally and financially) I have taken along the way. The long hours; the debt; the thrills; the laughs; and the self-worth it has given me.
Yes, it is a very male dominated industry and when I first started I only had a car licence! Now I’m driving & hiring trucks that require a HR Licence lifting people 80 feet in the air around high voltage power lines for a living.
What attracted you to the role / industry initially?
I was offered a role working for a company called Mini Pickers where I built my knowledge and skills with in the Truck Mounted EWP of Cherry Pickers they are commonly known, industry. Here I worked my way from a cleaner through to office manager till the company was sold to the new owners and I stayed on in my office role but was then closed less than a year later. Opportunity kind of just knocked at that time as people were still calling my mobile which had been Mini Pickers listed number. I would joke saying, I should buy a Truck Mounted EWP and start my own company with all these past clients still calling, and in 2011, I had to smile quietly as I purchased my first and only girl of the MAXIpickers Fleet, the beautiful Maxine.
Almost immediately after spending many hands-on hours with Maxine with her wanting only fuel, oil, grease & to be serviced regularly I realised these Truck Mounted EWP’s are way too happy & simple to get along with to be female so all fleet members from EWP002 onwards are men to me!!
What’s something many people wouldn’t know about your role or workplace?
I guess the expenses that come with maintaining my fleet – that’s what I didn’t really anticipate early on that’s for sure! This is a specialised industry where equipment is expensive to purchase and maintain. All booms must be inspected internally every three months, by a third party annually, major inspections are done after ten years then every five years thereafter. Inspection and maintenance costs for each vehicle can be between $40,000 and $100,000 depending on wear and tear. Every vehicle is electrically tested every six months, which can cost up to $1,000 per test depending on when the tower was built. That’s just the boom. Then the truck must be serviced and maintained regularly also.
Have you faced any challenges in your role? If so what and how did / are you overcoming it?
Yes, business has been tight at times when industry downturns and companies look to cut costs. I’ve had to remodel my business from having lots of long-term contracts to more shorter-term ones which places heavier demands on maintenance and scheduling. This is a lot more time demanding on myself also.
What advice would you give to someone looking at a role similar to yours?
Don’t be put off by size, jargon or a bit of dirt! If you have passion, drive and resilience, then everything else you can learn from mentors, courses and even Googling! If someone else has learnt it somehow, then you can too!
What traits, skills or qualifications are needed to perform your role?
You need to have good attention to detail for project managing your fleet. You need to fully understand these amazing machines from the truck engines, to the EWP booms. You need to have enough knowledge, so you can make good calls on what needs fixing or replacing, and what you should spend money on vs what you can do yourself.
My company moto is….. If something does not feel right, look right, sound right or smell right - there is something wrong.
Stop and investigate immediately.
Gut feeling is so important and gets better as you get more experienced. When a machine breaks down, you need to find the fault, then proceed to fix the fault/problem and get the machine working again.
You need to know, understand and follow the relevant Australian Standards that correspond to the EWP and the truck. As well as all the rules, regulations and licences, the Safe Working Loads (SWL) of each machine must never be exceeded. Then there are the permits required for different sites, situations and different rules as you move from shire to shire. My knowledge in all these areas has continued to grow whilst being hands on.
Are you a minority in your workplace?
Yes, you don’t find too many female truck drivers let alone women who own their own fleet of Truck Mounted Cherry Pickers!
Any other wins, challenges, experiences or pieces of wisdom that you’d like to share?
I could easily have shut up shop several times over with the financial and red tape hurdles I’ve come up against, but I guess I just don’t take no for an answer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and that’s probably the best advice I can give someone, no matter what industry or role they’re in. Don’t give up. As one door shuts, another one will open. And the harder you work the luckier you get.