Hawke’s Bay Civil Operations Manager Pearl Jury became the first woman to gain her Civil Trades certification, the nationally recognised accreditation programme for civil contractors in New Zealand.
Pearl has more than 15 years’ experience with Gair Contracting in Napier, she loves working with heavy machinery, and the company is one of the few contracting companies in New Zealand led by a woman – Director Bailey Gair.
Pearl’s professional journey however started in a completely different place. “I left school at 15 and went into retail.”
A string of other retail jobs followed before she switched to an apprenticeship with a joinery company and discovered a love of machines and hands-on work. But it was a short-term thing because Pearl and her husband Chris soon abandoned townie life for what would become 27 years of farming in the back blocks of Hawke’s Bay. When they returned to town, Chris got a job grader driving with Gair Contracting.
“I just happened to go in with him one day, and got on the digger, as you do, and started working. Two weeks later they rung up and asked if I would be interested in coming to work with them for a couple of weeks, that went by and I kept asking ‘so do I come back?’ And that’s how it all started really,” Pearl says.
What’s kept her there is a mix of incredible support from the business which has seen her grow from a machinery operator to Civil Operations Manager, but also, simply a love of the work.
“I just really love being out there. I love being on the different jobs. I love being able to work outdoors and I love working with the machines. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a petrol-head that way.”
Despite her project management responsibilities Pearl can still be found driving a digger most days.
“I still just really love it.” And now she particularly loves passing on her knowledge and experience to the newcomers who start with the business,” she says.
“That’s really satisfying. To see them come along and pick up the skills.”
Pearl decided to go for Civil Trades at the suggestion of Gair Contracting general manager Richard Jardine.
“He talked me into it, but it’s been a really good thing to do. You just get to see everything you’ve done and everything you’ve learned over the years and have it recognised. It’s quite gratifying.
“I’d definitely recommend it to other people to do. It means clients can see really easily what you and your team can do. I think it will get to the point where everybody has to do it, actually.”
Richard, who supported Pearl through the certification process, says it’s given him renewed pride in her skills and respect for her experience. “She’s so humble, it’s been great for her to really have her knowledge officially recognised. I know she teaches me new things all the time!”
He agrees that it probably won’t be long before Civil Trades is seen as a compulsory part of working in the civil construction and maintenance sector.
“It’s just the best way for clients to get a clear picture of what our people can do. I think they’ll probably demand it eventually.
“It’s also going to be one of the best tools we’ll have to train and retain staff. It shows that we’re prepared to support our people and, with a skills shortage out there, that’s important.”
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Pearl having her skills recognised as one of the very few women in the hands-on side of the civil construction sector.
“Yeah there were times in the early days where you’d meet people who were used to things being a certain way. But I always gave as good as I got and in the end we all just got on with the job.
“It’s definitely changing and definitely a lot better now, a lot more accepting.”
She says she was also able to persevere thanks to the backing of her former boss Joe Gair, founding owner of Gair Contracting. “He was always quite hard on me, but it was because he believed in me. He always said if he saw someone who had potential he’d push them to see it through.”
And now, of Pearl’s two sons and one daughter, it’s her daughter that has followed in her footsteps and is also working in the civil contracting sector working with the heavy machines.
Her advice for other young women considering entering the industry is to make sure they enjoy it.
“There’s absolutely no reason girls can’t do it and, in the end, it’s really satisfying work to do. You can look back and see something you’ve created and feel really good about it.”
Developed with industry for industry, Civil Trades certification combines a recognised trade qualification with certified hours of practical experience and leads to registration as a Certified Tradesperson.
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