May 21, 2019

“Working in the industry has changed my life” – an interview with crane driver Katie Kelleher

Crane driver Katie Kelleher has worked on both land and water, lending her expertise to two major London infrastructure projects – Crossrail and Tideway. She is working hard to try and change the face of construction by using herself as a role model and openly encouraging more apprentices and more women into the field. Katie will be discussing her experience at an event organised by IOSH’s London Metropolitan Branch on 25 April. Katie has spoken to IOSH about her career trajectory and what motivated her to work in this sector.

Katie Kelleher

Hi Katie. How long have you been working as a crane driver and what was your role prior to this?

“I started as a Lifting Technician Apprenticeship with Select / Laing O’Rourke in October 2014. Prior to this I worked as a trades and labour recruitment consultant and had up until this point spent around 10 years in different sales jobs.”

What inspired you to work in this profession?

“Sadly, I wasn’t inspired at a young age to be a crane operator, as I didn’t believe women worked in construction and I especially didn’t think they operated cranes. I only had one lady on my books while working in recruitment and I was never told in school that the industry was an option.

“I started to wonder why I couldn’t work within construction. While I had no qualifications and experience in the sector, I wondered if someone might give me a chance to train. Laing O’Rourke first put the idea of being a crane operator to me as they had a new apprenticeship. I came to the conclusion ‘why not?’ – if someone was willing to train me and give me a chance, why couldn’t I do this?”

What has your experience been working as a crane driver?

“In my short career so far, I have managed to work on two major London projects. The first project I was placed on was Crossrail Tottenham Court road site where I was based for two and a half years. Starting out on such a prestigious site was amazing, they allowed me to get stuck in and they supported me through my time on site. It has all been a great learning curve.

“Following this I moved to Tideway and was based on a barge in Blackfriars. This was another new experience – operating a crane on water is completely different to on land, as well as getting a boat down the Thames there and back daily! I am now based at Cremorne, Lots Road with Tideway as a Deputy AP. It’s an interesting site as currently the majority on site are female.”

Do you work with other women in similar roles?

“Within Select we currently have five great female crane ops: three on crawler cranes and two on towers. I only know around 10 female crane ops in total, so these numbers are fairly good within the industry. That said, when you weigh it up against a total of 250 crane ops, there is still an imbalance and more needs to be done to motivate women to work in this role.”

If you were to give any advice or encouragement to other women about working in the construction sector, what would it be?

“The construction industry has really changed my life and I wish I had known sooner it was an industry I could work in. I am very passionate now about apprenticeships, both degree and non-degree, and I am passionate about women in construction and seeing more women on the tools and operating plant.

“The number of women in the industry who operate in plants or work on the tools is only a very small 0.7%. My best bit of advice coming from someone who changed career and didn’t believe construction was an industry for women would be to go for it, look into all the opportunities out there, look into all the apprenticeships, be willing to make a change and step up to make a difference.

“Construction is an industry where you can grow and excel if you just show willingness. The support to push us along and move us up the ladder is huge; there are great opportunities there for all.”