Women with their sights trained on industry safety

WiPA Training Montage

The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) launched its Women in Powered Access initiative back in May, at Vertikal Days. Inspired by IPAF President Karin Nars, who became the first woman elected to the role when confirmed at the IPAF AGM in London in March, the initiative aims to showcase opportunities open to women – both those already working in roles in powered access and those considering joining it.  

In her address to the IPAF Summit, Nars said: “Inclusion is important because it enables people to share different perspectives in a supportive environment. Safety is a joint effort to which everybody can and should contribute – we cannot afford to exclude anybody from the conversation surrounding safety.  

“An important first step is to encourage more women to bring their knowledge, passion and work ethic to our industry. We already have thousands of women in our industry whose stories have not been told. And their stories are something young women need to see and hear – to help them become inspired and learn about paths women have taken in our industry.”  

The response to IPAF’s initiative has been very encouraging, with women from across the spectrum reaching out to share their stories about what inspires them in their roles and to impart advice to others seeking to follow in their footsteps. The powered access industry is broad and varied; in this article we heard from women working specifically within training. It is remarkable how their experiences chime with one another, and the enthusiasm and passion for the work they clearly come across.  

Adele Coupe is Training Manager at Certora Training, an independent UK company with centres in locations including Bromsgrove, Chesterfield and Livingston. She is also currently serving a second term on IPAF’s Training Committee. She was one of the first people to get in touch with IPAF when the Women in Powered Access initiative was launched. 

“I recently celebrated 22 years in the industry,” she says. “I got involved in June 2000, working for a Manchester company that was selling IPAF training. I moved to Derbyshire in 2002 and following this relocation, I joined Mentor in 2010 [the company has since rebranded as Certora Training] as a training coordinator, and quickly became access equipment account manager, responsible for expanding IPAF training sales and developing this side of the business. 

“I have since become the training manager and part of my role includes arranging standardisation meetings for instructors, measuring the quality performance of our services, and ensuring the business is up to date on industry changes. 

“It’s fantastic that IPAF is encouraging more women to join what is still a predominantly male-dominated industry, I am proud to be involved in this initiative. 

Adele also invited Emily Bonsall, Certora’s Managing Director, to share her story as part of the initiative. Hers is certainly an inspirational story of a rapid rise from industry entrant to someone in a position of seniority. “I joined Mentor Training in 2003 as a marketing assistant for a year’s work placement from university,” she recounts. “As a 20-year-old, I wasn’t even really aware of the industry, let alone considering working in it – I soon realised it had so much to offer.  

“In 2005 when I graduated, I returned to Mentor as a marketing coordinator. I have been lucky enough to work in an organisation that allows individuals to grow and develop with no limits on their aspirations, regardless of their gender, hence my role today! Working in all departments and gaining experience directly associated to training delivery, course creation, developing standards and the associated marketing – I can honestly say that I have never been bored!” 

The sheer variety of the work in powered access is a theme that many of the women we have spoken to touch upon. As Debbie Lewis, an IPAF Independent Instructor, comments: “This is a very rewarding job and there are lots of opportunities to gain new skills and pass this knowledge on to your training delegates. Every day is different – no two days are the same!” 

Sentiments echoed nearly word-for-word by Kate Bell, Head of UK Training for Nationwide Platforms, part of the Loxam Group: “What I love about this industry are the hard-working people that you meet and the challenges we face – no two days are ever the same. I get to play a part in assisting our customers from personal and professional development through to fulfilment and completion of a project – with safety being paramount, so everyone goes home safe to their families and loved ones at the end of each day. The customers we work with are fantastic, really safety-conscientious owing to their high-risk working environments. This creates agile and innovative thinking, which in turn inspires me.” 

This focus on safety being the key driver of a passion for quality training is another recurring theme, and a worldwide one at that. Sara Trabucchi, Training Manager of Elevo-Kiloutou in Italy, comments: “I am fascinated by aspects of safety; I love giving operators the tools to allow them to go home in the evening after working with MEWPs.”  

A sentiment echoed by Coupe, who says: “I try to make a real impact with my work and help others. I’ve been an ambassador for training for a long time, coupled with a passion for safety in the industry. I hope to continue to make a difference and contribute towards helping people get home safely after working at height.”  

Anna Sara Costa Morais, an-IAPA shortlisted Operator Training Instructor with Mills, a major rental company and training provider in Brazil, also emphasises safety as a key driver in her career: “MEWPs offer different solutions to a real problem that I experience in this role, and I fell in love with the concept that yes, it is possible to perform work at height in a safe way. I embrace this as the perfect professional development project, to specialise more and more in safe methods of operation of MEWPs to work at height. More and more new technologies keep arising to benefit safe operation; I want to continue to learn and to share my knowledge.” 

Bonsall says: “Seeing people develop their skills, knowledge and behaviours and creating an environment where they can be successful. Whether they be learners attending one of our training courses, instructors and assessors delivering training, or members of my team. I am inspired when I see how our services and the industries that we operate in have such a positive impact on the capabilities and safety of others.” 

Lewis also finds fulfilment in helping people overcome their fears to boost their skills and confidence: “I try my best each day to give my training delegates confidence through gaining a qualification that helps them in their workplace. I also enjoy helping them overcome their fear of heights and try to make the day as enjoyable as possible for them – it’s very rewarding seeing people achieve something that they thought they couldn’t do,” she says. 

When it comes to offering a few sage words of advice to other women in the industry or those plotting a new career path, all are full of encouragement for those who would follow in their footsteps.  

Bell says: “If you are thinking about joining the industry and are looking for a diverse, challenging and rewarding career, just do it! For those who are already within the industry and are wanting to progress their career further – set yourself some goals and arrange a structured feedback session with your line manager. Don’t be afraid to ask what you need to do to progress those goals; self-awareness and the willingness to evolve is key. Above all, always be yourself, stay focused and be inspired! Gender should not determine your success, only you can do that!” 

Likewise, Bonsall is keen to convey her enthusiasm to potential new entrants into the world of powered access: “Get involved – it is a great industry to work in and one I can honestly say I’ve never struggled in, regardless of the demographic split. There are so many opportunities, from administration to compliance, marketing to engineering, finance to instructing.” 

Trabucchi agrees: “The keystone is competence and knowledge: I wanted to learn everything about MEWPs. It’s not a job that everyone can do, you must have a great desire to learn, to get your hands dirty and to be around people.  

Frontline instructors Lewis and Morais are also resounding in their advice to not let the perceived gender imbalance in the industry put women off. “If you have good communication skills and enjoy meeting lots of different types of people, this is an excellent career choice,” Lewis says. “Don’t think this is not a role for you, it is suitable and rewarding for either a man or woman. If you can work on your initiative and communicate well with people, then give it a go! I love my job and look forward to every day!” 

“It is worth saying that difficulties still exist,” admits Morais. “But [women’s] perception, resilience and plurality only add value to work teams, allowing us to dream big and to go far!” 

● For more information please see: www.ipaf.org/en/ipafs-women-powered-access-initiative 

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