Girl power

by Derek Clouthier

EDMONTON, Alta. —  If being perfect is the measure of success, Women Building Futures’ (WBF) can hold its head high after a 100% graduation rate from its inaugural Class 1 driving program.

Twelve women celebrated the completion of the program in Edmonton Sept. 27, and for Sherrise Garcia, it was a dream come true.

“I’ve always wanted to be a Class 1 driver, so it’s been one of my dreams since I can remember,” said Garcia. “I have always been fascinated by big trucks.”

Coming from various employment backgrounds, many from what would be described as non-traditional female occupations, a recurring theme among the group of graduates was a desire to be on the road and do a job they would be proud of.

“Driving had always been something I had been interested in,” said Georgina Daub, a graduate who lives in Edmonton and came in with a Class 2 license and experience driving a bus. “I enjoy to drive, I like big vehicles, I like the challenge of those vehicles, so it was just a matter of time to get the opportunity to move into it.”

Prior to getting behind the wheel, Daub worked in construction, running a renovation company and doing much of the work herself. As time went on, Daub knew she needed to look for something a little less physically demanding, and a transition into driving made sense.

“I’ve generally always worked in male-dominated trades,” she said. “When you’re the sole income you have to make a living.”

Daub contends that many conventional female jobs don’t provide the same kind of financial benefits that male-dominated occupations do, and as she moves closer to retirement, Daub needed something she would both enjoy and earn a good living doing.

“I need to make a living, I need to make retirement, and I want to enjoy doing it,” she said. “I’m not happy just going and doing one job over and over, going to an office and looking at the same walls. That isn’t something that would fit who I am.”

Another graduate, Jamie Bellesen, got bit by the transportation bug when she had the opportunity to move some equipment from Edmonton to Ottawa for her former employer.

“I loved the trip and being on the road, dealing with the logistics, showing up on site with the equipment and organizing unloading of the equipment,” said Bellesen. “The whole dynamic was an adventure and it really made me want to do this as a profession.

“That trip for some reason just resonated with me, and to get paid to do that seemed kind of cool.”

The trip was her first experience being on the road, and loving the experience so much, she asked her employer if she would be able to transition into a permanent role as a driver, but at the time, it was not in the cards.

Bellesen then received an e-mail from WBF, as she had previously applied for a heavy equipment program, and she noticed that they were offering the Class 1 driver course and jumped on it.

“There’s kind of the cowboy thing to it,” Bellesen said of being on the road. “You’re on the road, it’s always different and you see things you don’t normally see. I’ve never been an office person…it’s was very hard to even do part-time work in an office, I just enjoy working outside and always changing.”

Bellesen also came from a non-traditional female work background, having run a heavy loader and several maintenance positions since 1993.

Asked to provide a practical reason why she wanted to enter the industry as a driver, Bellesen said the definition of the word ‘practical’ is “a mindfulness of results and usefulness,” and that there was no better way to describe the job of a commercial truck driver.

“I never realized what kind of impact drivers have on the economy and communities,” she said. “The world would stop and it would be total chaos without them.”

Garcia, who was raising four children prior to enrolling in WBF’s Class 1 program, had no experience behind the wheel, but loved the idea of being a driver.

“I can’t see myself being at a desk job,” she said. “I like doing hands on work.”

There’s also a sense of pride for Garcia in her newfound success.

“I want to be a good role model for my kids, and I know it’s going to be a lot of sacrifice, but I’m looking long term,” said Garcia. “Sacrifice now and later on we’ll enjoy it more. Being a woman in the industry, hopefully they will be proud of me.”

Each of the three graduates echoed the same sentiment about WBF and the Class 1 program, saying it would not have been possible without the support of many, including the industry itself.

“I was in awe at the people who invested into this program,” said Daub, adding that she was surprised to learn that only 3% of drivers are women.

For Garcia, making some new friends was another plus.

“They’re all really supportive and I didn’t expect that with being in a group of 12 women,” she said. “They’re all really great women.”

Megan Bates, manager of industry relations for WBF, reiterated the quality of the first graduating class of the Class 1 program, all completing the 10-week course with flying colors.

A careful screening process of applications helps properly funnel women into the various programs WBF offers.

“(These) are not career paths that women often see themselves in,” said Bates. “So we do a lot of awareness building and really have them understand what the work will be before they decide to pursue the training and employment in that field.”

The assessment process involves hands on and academic screening, attitude and communication styles, a background check, and an application form that includes an interview portion, where applicants talk to someone who works in their chosen field of study to get a firsthand account of what the job entails.

“The assessment is really a key part to why the completion rate of these programs is so high,” Bates said.

Though the process may seem daunting, Bates impressed that it was in an effort to ensure the applicants success and that every attempt was made to approve the application, whether right away or sometime down the line.

“In terms of saying ‘no,’ no, we really try not to say ‘no,’” she said. “There may be a ‘not right now’ if certain parts of the assessment uncover things that maybe aren’t in line with succeeding in this employment, and in that case we offer other supports to help them get everything together and come and try again.”

In 2018, WBF plans to have two Class 1 programs sessions, and Bates said they are getting a lot of inquiries.

“We had a great amount of interest for this program,” she said, “and of course the industry support really makes a difference as well, and we expect that to continue to grow.”

Alberta Motor Transport Association president Lorraine Card and past chairman Dan Duckering were on hand to congratulate the graduates.

Card said she was excited to see the first class complete the WBF Class 1 program, as “Class 1 drivers are needed so badly in the industry.”

Duckering told the group of ladies that “The redneck trucker of the past is gone,” and that the program was integral to bringing trained and prepared women into the industry.

All 12 graduates interviewed for positions with Westcan Bulk Transport and Caron Transportation Systems following graduation. As of press time, Daub had accepted a position with Westcan, Caron had hired four graduates, and the remaining were still in the interview process.

Bellesen said her future looked bright, and that “the possibilities are endless as far as growing professionally in this industry,” while Daub had no qualms over what she wanted to do.

“Right now, I just want to drive.”

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