11 May 2009
By Emily Roberts
JULIE Griffin is used to being the only female among her electrician colleagues. While she admits there are hurdles integrating into an all-male arena, they are certainly not insurmountable, and she is baffled why more women aren’t completing trades, particularly in the mining industry where the rewards, both financially and professionally – are great.
An electrician for 15 years, Griffin is currently the electrical maintenance planner at BMA’s Crinum mine in central Queensland. Born in Mount Isa, she began her electrical apprenticeship with the then Mount Isa Mines after finishing high school. She has worked in a number of electrician (non-mining) roles in Cairns, Gympie and Brisbane, including three years with Qantas as an electrical subcontractor.
Her move back into the mining industry began in Cobar, New South Wales where she worked for a couple of mines, including the Endeavor lead mine. This included 12 months underground. In 2006, she moved, with her 10-year-old son, to Emerald in Queensland to work with BMA.
“When I first came here [Emerald] my son was 10 and it was hard because I was doing shift work, so I was on a seven-day continuous roster,” Griffin said. “There are big waiting lists [for childcare centres and family daycare], but I was desperate as I was on my own, so they rang up a lady and I was lucky that she felt sorry for me and took him into family day care.
“All the centres I couldn’t get in to because I was doing nightshift. It was a challenge as a single mum working on shift, but family daycare came through. When my son was in grade 8 I went private [with a nanny] and used that for two years, then I met a gentleman a couple of years ago and we moved in together. Then I went onto day shifts.”
As well as working full time at Crinum, Griffin, and a long-time friend who has a Bachelor of Environmental Management, also runs their company, Ecovidual. The online e-store sells environmentally friendly electrical products, and includes an electrical contracting component. Griffin is Emerald’s Climate Smart electrician, a Queensland Government initiative that encourages people to use more environment friendly products and help reduce their carbon footprint. So, she spends her Saturdays putting energy meters into people’s houses, changing light bulbs to more energy-efficient ones and replacing showerheads with more water-efficient ones.
There is not much spare time in Griffin’s life. “I know, but I just love it,” Griffin said. “I am interested in helping companies [and individuals] reduce energy through what I do. “I do find it [electrician] a rewarding career, and I never regretted doing it. It has been challenging; not always easy. I think the main challenge has been to see that the guys see me as one of them and nothing different. The biggest challenge has been to assimilate into their world. A couple of places [I have worked at] have been hard, but most men have been really, really good. I hope the younger [males] ones will be more open because more women are starting to think about trades slowly and because you get the girls at school doing manual arts, I think the guys look at them differently at school now.”
Griffin said she has been lucky to find a mentor at nearly every place she has worked, which has made it easier to fit in and to receive encouragement and inspiration for her work.
She has been active in encouraging other women to consider trade careers through involvement in BMA’s Focus on Women workshop, appearing in promotional videos and a television commercial, as well as being a mentor to apprentices.
“I am the only female in the maintenance team here, and there are no female tradesmen on site. Part of my job now is to try and help encourage young ladies and school children to look at all the options and to consider a career in a trade. I am not sure why there aren’t more. A reason they maybe aren’t opting for these roles is the fear of the unknown; not knowing what it’s all about. I think they need to see role models. I think they know the jobs are there but I think they need more encouragement and to see women doing it, and women talking to them more and encouraging them more.”
As for balancing a full-time job with being a single parent, Griffin is proof it is possible. Although she concedes that having a fiance does make things a little easier.
“It can be done with a bit of smart planning and perseverance with family day care and centres,” Griffin said. “It is a big challenge to combine both but it can be done. I am definite proof of that. At the same time you have to spend quality time with your kids at the end of the day. It is hard but you can find the right balance after trial and error.”
In March this year Griffin was presented with the Resources Award for Women Trade category, by Queensland governor Penelope Wensley, at the Queensland Resources Council’s International Women’s Day breakfast in Brisbane.