There’re a few conversations going around about university relevance and the benefits of learning on the job that have school-leavers thinking twice about their options. As an apprentice or trainee, you can land a job in your chosen industry and earn while you learn. There’s also no student debt mountain to pay off once your studies are finished.
This is exactly why Rebecca Banks, a 19-year-old crane operator, decided to leave school at 16 and join the family business.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do so I really didn’t want to take the big step of going to university and end up regretting it,” Rebecca explains. “My mum works in the office at Banks Engineering and Crane Hire and she needed help, so I decided to leave school and go work until I figured out what I wanted to do.”
Banks Engineering and Crane Hire was started by Rebecca’s dad over 20 years ago. While it may seem a big jump from admin to cranes, Rebecca took it all in her stride. “Well, we needed more qualified crane operators,” she explains, “so one day my dad just asked me if I wanted to sit my crane tickets and I just went for it.” Keeping the family legacy going, Rebecca operates a five-tonne crawler crane and a 20-tonne mobile crane and has her Dogman ticket and Class Two Load Pilot ticket.
Talking about the first time she hopped in a crane, Rebecca says:
“I was pretty nervous, there are a lot of factors you have to take into account, there’s a lot of maths that goes into operating a crane. It can be overwhelming in the beginning because there’s a lot to remember, but like any job, once you do it a few times, you get used to it.”
What Rebecca loves most about the role is the variety, “It’s pretty challenging but every single job you go to is completely different, so it’s a forever changing job.”
She also enjoys people’s reactions when she gets introduced as a crane operator, “Yeah, there aren’t a lot of female crane operators, so it’s pretty out there and watching their mouths drop is pretty funny, it’s nice to surprise people.”
When asked why she didn’t think twice about getting her crane tickets Rebecca said, “I think it was because when you go to university, you’re not guaranteed to get a job afterwards. However, if you go into a trade, you’re pretty much guaranteed a job. In that sense, it’s way better than going to university, but it depends on what you want to do really.”
Because Rebecca took the time to think about her options, she’s been able to save up while gaining skills and experience. Pretty soon she’ll be in a position a lot of her uni friends will have to wait a bit longer for, “All my friends have horrible debt but in the next year or so I will be looking at purchasing my first home.”
Rebecca is one of the few women in the country that operates heavy machinery on site. She does think there is a stigma against women in trades but feels that if women have confidence in themselves, their work will speak for itself. “The guys on site don’t find it weird having a girl operating a crane. They’re all very patient and helpful, quick to answer any questions I have,” she says.
Rebecca wants to continue working her way up the ranks and move on to the bigger 50 and 90-tonne cranes. She has some advice for women out there looking to enter trades:
“Construction companies I have spoken with have been very encouraging towards women getting into trades because they’re generally gentler with the machinery. If you’re a woman who wants to get into the industry, you could easily get a job because you’re being sought after really.”