Gemma and Megan Leeson are not what you expect from your average quarry worker. They’re young, related and they’re female. MARY SEARLE BELL explains.
While it is fair to say our extraction industry is male-dominated and challenged with an ageing workforce, the Leeson sisters are two of four apprentices in the Stevenson Construction Materials quarry (their brother Adam is also one of the others).
Gemma, who is 21, has been working there for a year now, and is loving it.
“I started at the same time as Adam. Shane Toto, the quarry manager, is a family friend and he suggested we start work here. I thought why not?
“I also thought it would be a yard with small stones so it was a bit daunting on my first day when I saw how huge it was and how massive the machines were.” Gemma began by driving a dump truck on site, but soon moved up to driving a loader, something she really enjoys.
Quarry supervisor Nathan Gibbons says he was very impressed with her diligence on the trucks.
“She did really well, and was great with maintenance of the vehicle, so I thought it would be worthwhile to teach her to operate a loader. And it was. She has become a really good operator.”
Aged 18, younger sister Megan has only been working in the quarry for four months.
“I had left school early and had a job in retail, but I saw that Gemma and Adam were enjoying their work so I asked Shane if he had any jobs going and it went from there.”
As a fairly new recruit, Megan is still driving a dump truck, but is hoping to progress to a loader soon.
“Megan is also doing really well,” says Nathan.
“One day she came up to me and asked what a particular button in her cab did as she couldn’t find anything about it in the manual – she had read the truck’s manual from cover to cover in her downtime.
“I was pretty impressed by that.”
Consequently, Nathan dug out a book on crushing and screening for her, which she read and enjoyed!
“They’re both keen to keep learning. And what they’re learning they’re doing well,” says Nathan. “As soon as she got her driver’s licence, Gemma wanted to get her WTR endorsement, and now she’s keen to get her truck licence.”
The young women were about to start studying for the Level 2 certificate in Quarrying, and then from there it’s onwards and upwards.
“I would like to try operating all the different machines,” says Gemma.
“And then move on up to management. And blasting is pretty cool; I wouldn’t mind studying that.”
Along with getting familiar with the different gear on site, the Leesons also have to learn about the aggregate they’re quarrying.
“We’ve got a few different materials here, but they all look the same at first,” Gemma comments. “But we learn something new every day.”
“I thought it would be a yard with small stones so it was a bit daunting on my first day when I saw how huge it was and how massive the machines were.”
Nathan says the three Leeson siblings are the youngest on site and all currently in training. Another young apprentice has just completed his B and A grade quarry managers certificate.
“We’ve actually got quite a few young people on site,” Nathan says of his team of around 50. “I enjoy teaching young people, especially when you can see them appreciate what you’ve taught them.” He admits he has been fortunate when it comes to the Leesons.
“We’ve been really lucky; they all have a really good work ethic.
“We work five-and-a-half days a week and have early starts. They have to be here at 6am, which is not easy, but it’s no problem for them.”
Gemma admits the hours they are required to put in each week came as a bit of a shock.
“I’m working about 61 hours a week at the moment,” she says. Megan is not far behind, clocking up 58 hours of work a week.
“I didn’t expect it to be such long hours,” she says. “However, compared to working in retail, the hours just fly by here. There’s always something to do.”
Gemma says when she’s busy clearing the crusher belts with her loader to either a dump truck or a stockpile the days just fly by.
“It’s exciting when we get a rush of trucks all coming in at once,” she says.
In addition to the work being more stimulating and interesting, the remuneration is also much higher than they were earning previously.
“We’ve had a massive jump in pay. And that just makes you want to work harder and go higher,” she says.
Besides simply enjoying the work, the girls say they really enjoy the team in the quarry.
Smoko is one of the best parts of the day according to Megan, when they get “actually catch up with everyone”.
“A lot of them are a bit older than us and only about five operators are female, but it all good. Everyone gets along, and the banter is great.”
Females in the industry are definitely the minority, but the Leeson sisters clearly show that they enjoy it, and can perform as well as their male colleagues.
“You have to be willing to get a bit dirty,” Gemma adds.
“It’s definitely something different at first, but there are so many opportunities here. It’s great.”
Stevenson’s Drury quarry extracts 2.7 million tonnes of greywacke each year, processing it into concrete aggregate, sealing chip and roading base course.
The quarry supplies the greater Auckland region, from Albany in the north all the way down to northern Waikato.
On site, the company has 10 loaders, 10 dump trucks, five diggers, four mobile crushing plants. There is also a large static primary and tertiary plant and two other smaller chip plants that produce sealing chip.
It’s one of these chip plants that Gemma is now responsible for clearing with her loader. A challenge she’s really enjoying, and a job Megan is itching to try.
“I think the girls are doing really well,” adds Nathan.
“They’re totally new to the industry but have adapted so well. It’s been amazing.”
Following his experience with the Leeson family, Nathan thoroughly recommends recruiting youngsters straight out of school.
“You should give it a shot,” he says.
“Maybe every couple of years go to a local school and get a couple of leavers. Hiring them so young has worked really well for us.”