A Great Choice When it’s Time for a Change

This article was provided by Concrete Ontario, the association voice of ready-mixed concrete producers in Ontario. For more information, go to https://www.rmcao.org/careers or follow ConcreteCareers on Facebook @ConcreteCareers or Instagram @Concrete_Careers.

Meet Kate Gibbons: 32 years in the armored car driving business. Shuttle driver delivering high volume currency drops. Enjoyed working with her delivery partner, understood and managed the risk associated with the job, and liked what she did every day.

But sometimes, it’s just time for a change.

And in Kate’s case, it was time to explore her love of driving in a new sector. And that’s when she found concrete.

Q: Why concrete Kate?

One of my neighbour’s worked in the business and I always found the stories he told interesting. When I was on Indeed looking at job listings contemplating a change and I saw a Concrete Delivery Professional job posted in an area that was a good fit for me. So I took a leap and applied.

And that application has become not only a new work life, but wonderfully also a new plant family according to Kate. Kate has been working for Lafarge in Cambridge for 9 months now. She commutes to the plant from her home in Ingersoll, where she enjoys time with family and friends, zen-ing out working on her flower gardens, and exploring her new hobby of mountain biking.

Q: So you applied and got the job. Were you nervous about anything when you showed up on your first day?

For sure. The size of the truck. It’s funny looking back at that feeling now. Now I’m just so used to my ready-mix truck. You end up feeling connected to it and you get to know it and you become a team to successfully and safely do the job every day. You learn the noises and the ways to make it work the best. And how to check it and care for it at the start and end of every day so you are safe & successful together.

Q: So I guess then it was training time. What was that like after 32 years of driving a completely different type of truck?

Training was great. More than that, it was actually quite fun. It was an approach involving teaching and ride alongs; show first, then try. I never felt pushed out of comfort zone. And I felt comfortable to ask so many different questions. My trainer and the other drivers showed me simple tricks on how to do things that just worked. 

I’m not afraid to admit that I took a picture of the remote, printed it, blew it up, stuck it on my fridge so that it would become second nature to me much faster. Then I really wanted to master my slumps, so I made a cheat sheet and was trained to live by “Go to the top – look – listen – then go by your gage.” That way I was learning and developing instincts as well as matching that with what the available technology was telling me about my load. It really helps you because you quickly know when things get out of whack.

My trainer really made me comfortable and made learning so non-intimidating. I really want other ladies to know that. With my nerves settled I could just focus on and enjoy learning. Now it’s funny ~ I can hear his tips & tricks in my head when I come across those situations, and it gives me confidence to do what I need to do to deliver safety & quality with each load.

The other thing that people considering driving in ready-mix should know is how supportive all the other drivers are. That’s another thing that has been pretty wonderful. It’s like I have 5 new big brothers here who take the time to teach me things, so I learn interesting things every day and just get better and better at my job. I have to give a shout out to Darlene from our Guelph plant. She’s an experienced and really skilled CDP and has been super helpful. I’d only been driving to site on my own for a short time and was having trouble at a site with a pump and she was there just before me. She stayed another 10 minutes and gave me tricks to match my unloading speed with the speed of the pump and now unloading at pumps is something I look forward to rather than be intimidated by.

Q ~ New job intimidation. That’s for sure a thing. Let’s think back to your first month on the job when you started delivering on your own: what did intimidate you?

Kate ~ I expected to be given a tougher time on site. And it was exactly the opposite. The receptiveness to me as a women driver was so much more professional and normal than I thought it would be. I couldn’t believe how great all the guys on site turned out to be. When they realized I was new and was learning – they were patient and helpful. Turned out I had nothing to be intimidated about at all.

That said – I have come across one difficult situation in my 9 months. I was helping out at our Guelph plant and was harassed on a site. I didn’t react – just finished unloading and returned to the plant. When I went back to the Guelph plant, I let the supervisor know and I guess the same thing then happened to the other female driver delivering to that same site. The supervisor took action right away, and I guess the client did as well. I delivered another load to that same site an hour later, and that person was no longer there. The concrete construction industry made an amazing impression on me that day. How can we as women ask for better support than that from both our employer and the industry. 

Q: Anything about the job ever feel physically too much?

Not at all. I think people think the chutes are heavy. They’re aluminum. If we do our job and keep them clean, they aren’t heavy at all. They are a bit awkward to start, but you quickly figure out a way to carry them and put them on and off that works and is efficient and safe and you won’t believe how easy it is. I’m 54 and not the tallest person on the planet and I can do it in my sleep now.

Q: How do you personally address safety in your job on a daily basis? Any safety advice you’d pass on to other new Concrete Delivery Professionals?

Oh that’s a great question.

First. Pay Attention. Always be looking. On the site and on that road. Paying attention. That’s our job as much as driving.

I guess the other one would be to use common sense. If I’m going to a remote site and I’m not sure where I’m going, I just call in on the radio and ask for guidance and to also let the plant know where I am / ensure they can see me on the GPS so I don’t get lost. Simple. Common sense. 

Lastly. Trust what they teach you. For example, when they say take corners less 20 km/hr or less, do that. Don’t think you know better. You really can feel a 9m3 load in motion. Trust the safe processes they teach you. Learn them. Follow them. Keep yourself and those around you safe.

Q ~ So have you caught the concrete bug? Are you looking at concrete everywhere? What’s the most interesting job you’ve delivered to?

Kate ~ Oh that’s another fun question to think about. Most interesting job. It’s got to be supporting the big pours at the Amazon at St. Thomas. It was like a well-orchestrated dance that was so neat to be a part of. The timing of the trucks and the deliveries and doing your part to keep that going and seeing the end result was really cool. I also learned a lot through that job because there was a special process they were using with adding high fibre content. There just seems no end to the cool things I get to learn about building and concrete.

Q: Have you had any moments where you regretted your choice to “make a change” to concrete?

Oh sure there’s been some bad days. But that’s life. There’s always going to be a bad day here and there. But tomorrow’s another day. And I’m finding in concrete, the next day after a bad day is always a good one.

Be ready – summer has some long days and some long hours (but I can’t tell you how great the pay reward is that comes along with it). These days are full. But they’re super rewarding. I sleep very well. Winter days are shorter. I expected it. It is construction season. It makes sense. That said – we work together around here. And I’m finding Lafarge and my supervisor are accommodating if I have something important come up like a critical doctor’s appointment or something like that.

It’s that team family feeling here that makes this job feel really good every day too. My supervisor is consistent, firm, fair, gives clear expectations, and I love that. And we all work together at this plant to deliver a great day to ourselves and our clients.

Q: What advice would you give to RMX companies considering hiring women?

Give her a chance. Lafarge gave me a chance. I’m 54, not 24. They gave me an opportunity and now I know I’m delivering value every day, and I’m super happy every day at work with my career with this concrete family.

If it will be an automatic truck, let a woman applicant know. It’s not that I can’t drive a standard truck, I’m just happier in an automatic. I’m higher. I feel safer and feel like I have more control. It is understandably a seniority thing regarding truck assignment. The universe helped me out here with what truck was available. 

Q: Anything else you’d like to tell other women out there about driving in concrete?

I haven’t been here long. But I can tell you – I’m seeing women everywhere. We have a great woman batcher. I was on a site at a Water Treatment plant the other day and there was a woman pump truck operator. She was like 120 lbs and managing the pump expertly. She actually told me she had been on a site the week before that had almost an entire woman crew on it and wished I had delivered to that job. We are welcome here and there are more of us out there. It’s a rewarding and empowering and enjoyable work life. Come join us.

Kate’s colleagues at Lafarge might be even more happy that she was ready for a change. “We are very fortunate to have found Kate. But, the only way to improve your chances when looking for diamonds in the rough, is to be truly open minded enough and have an inclusive environment that welcomes the right people. A strong work ethic and the right attitude are the most important qualities to look for, and Kate brings these everyday,” says General Manager, SouthWest Ready-Mix of Lafarge Eastern Canada, David Kelly.

Kate’s home plant Superintendent, Walter Murfin adds“As a father of two daughters, I am pleased to see women like Kate lead the charge and change the myth of gender roles in construction.”

Sometimes as an interviewer, you need to watch for if the interviewee is just telling you what you might like to hear versus what is real for them.

There were zero worries on that front in this lovely and inspiring discussion with Kate. The energy radiating from her was both positive and authentic as she shared her new #TeamConcrete work life experiences to date:

  • The motivating learning experiences.
  • The support from her #plantfamily, new “big brothers” and customer crews alike.
  • The fairness and consistency from her management.
  • Her connection to and enjoyment of her unique new ride.
  • Her commitment to quality, safety, and teamwork.
  • Her feeling that when it was time for her to make a change, that she made a great choice in choosing concrete.