Jennifer Wells, crane operator

Jennifer_Wells.jpgMade redundant from their jobs at a gamebird-processing plant near New Plymouth, Jennifer Wells and her mates set off separately to spend a day job-hunting, agreeing to meet in a pub at day’s end to compare notes.

Wells, second youngest in a Taranaki farming family of seven, had previously done shop-assistant work – at the local dairy, petrol station, supermarket. Visiting the job agency that day she said she wanted something like painting, decorating, building or mechanical work, something outside. “How you would you like to be a crane operator?” the helpful man asked.

So she visited Ian Roebuck Crane Hire where Ian Roebuck told her to obtain the required heavy-vehicle licences and get back to him.

Relating these events to her mates in the pub, Wells was greeted with hoots of laughter.

Well, 20 years later the only person laughing is Wells. She worked for Ian Roebuck Crane Hire for four years, spent nine years raising a family of four including twins (now aged 15 down to 11), and more than six years ago responded to the company’s request to rejoin the staff.

Ian Roebuck, who has 22 crane operators and truck drivers, says Wells is a very efficient, reliable operator. “Because she’s a woman she uses both sides of her brain and doesn’t fly off the handle like a man would.  And she’s polite.

“When she left to have a family she was the third highest operator on the payroll because everyone rang and complimented us on her. She was courteous on the road and courteous on the site. I pay by ability and feedback and she was very high up,” he says.

Wells views herself much more critically, if self-mockingly. She says she was a nervous wreck when she joined the company and for the first few weeks her legs were “complete jelly” on the crane deck. Only the support and guidance of her male workmates saved her.

In those early days she nearly wiped out a chimney and a TV aerial, damaged the side window and surrounds of her crane, crushed a cattle stop when she took a wrong turn, wrecked a client’s new roundabout, knocked over a beautiful light on a pole, and fractured a water-supply pipe.

“Those first four years were full of dents and mishaps, it’s a wonder I never got sacked on the spot,”  Wells says.

When the mother of four was asked to rejoin Roebuck’s “I didn’t know if I could handle all of that again. But handle it I did… and I’m not in any hurry to leave. I love my job”.

Wells operated 20-tonne and 30-tonne cranes first time around but after having children “down-sizing to a 20 again allowed me more reasonable hours on the home front”. Ian Roebuck says if it wasn’t for family reasons Wells would be well able to operate even the company’s German 55-tonner.

She gets to undertake a variety of interesting jobs (normally, but not always in Taranaki), including having helped with tree transfer to outdoor locations on the Tom Cruise movie, The Last Samurai. 

She says turning up on a man’s turf to do a crane job used to terrify her but now she’s quite used to it and doesn’t worry about the occasional “really cranky” male she encounters.

The best thing about her job?  “Having the coolest boss and great workmates. Interestingly enough, I get to do painting, decorating, mechanical work, building etc. The job agency came through for me big time.”

Wells says she takes each day as it comes. But even if she won Lotto the 44-year-old solo mum doesn’t think she’d quit work. “I’d do it for fun – a hobby maybe.” 

Next: Fiona Mountfort, environmental manager

Contractor Vol.33  No.4  May 2009
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