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Career Quick Look
Salary: $40,560* Education:
Years in Field: 18 High School Diploma; New York State Crane License; Hazardous Waste Removal Certification; Asbestos Removal Handler Certification; OSHA Certification; Certificate in Forklift Training.
City/State: Troy, NY  

"I've learned that I can do anything I set out to do," Marianne says. "I'm sure that if I really put my head and heart into it, I can accomplish anything that my male counterparts do with the same amount of time and experience."

"I try to be an exemplary employee," she adds, "I want to make a difference for the next woman that is sent on the job site to this employer."

"I love the look of young and old when they see a girl operating that big piece of equipment!" Marianne says.

Getting Started: Married at 17, and divorced shortly thereafter, Marianne had worked in real estate, retail, dog grooming, flea markets, clock manufacturing and banking, among other things, before she discovered construction. "I became interested in the field one summer after I'd done a short stint as a telephone line installer in Manhattan, and was waiting to start another job that fall," Marianne says. She was offered a job as a traffic controller (flag person), and says she wasn't interested until she learned the pay would be $11.20 an hour. "I told him I wasn't trained," she says, "but he assured me that wasn't a problem, that they could train me. So I started the very next day."

A few weeks later, Marianne was flagging for the operator of a 'Vermeer Rock Saw', and when she learned what the position paid, asked if she could train to use the machine. The foreman asked if she were afraid of using the saw. " Maybe a little," she replied, "but I'm not scared of that check!" Marianne spent two months training with the operator, and was offered a full-time job.

Education: Marianne graduated at the age of 16 from her high school in Yonkers, NY. "I was already engaged and had jumped into 12th grade early, so that I could marry my future husband that fall," she explains. "Needless to say the marriage didn't work out, so at 23 years of age I was left with no secondary education other than real estate school and dog grooming training." Looking for a skilled trade with greater earning power, she took a job flagging traffic on a construction site. Marianne received on-the-job training to operate machinery with the help of her senior crewmembers, and before long became an operator in her own right.

"My union also has a training school in Westerlo, New York," she says, and over the years this helped her earn additional certifications. Through the union school, Marianne received her New York State Crane License, hazardous waste removal certification, asbestos removal handler certification, forklift training and OSHA certification.

Greatest Professional Achievement: Marianne says the reputation she's earned among her peers "for being an excellent operator" is her proudest achievement. Years ago she took a chance in a field where few women had ventured. These days, Marianne says, when the Union is staffing a job site, "I am requested by name from the hall, because of my work ethic and talent."

Barriers: Back in 1984 when she first appeared on job sites, Marianne admits, "there were a lot of rolling eyes, and the attitude that I was the token female, almost like they were 'stuck' with me." She received many negative comments, and says she was reluctant each time she started a new job, "because I had to prove all over again to a new group of male peers that I was capable, that I was proficient and hard working and willing to get my hands dirty," she says.

It took a lot of hard work, but these days Marianne says her reception is dramatically different. "Now when I show up on a job site," she says, "my reputation precedes me, and I am welcomed." At Union meetings, she says, "I am acknowledged with a warm smile and a sincere handshake."

Working with Men: Even today, Marianne estimates that 99% of her co-workers are men. While the atmosphere on site has changed in many ways, her advice is to maintain a distinction between your personal and professional life. "Keep private matters private," she says. "It's important to act appropriately at all times."

Still she urges women not to be intimidated. "Don't be shy but don't be bossy," Marianne says. "Listen to advice from anyone who is willing to share, and never act as if you don't need it," she says. Her own experience shows that with a positive, professional approach, you can learn from more experienced co-workers, and develop valuable working relationships regardless of gender.

Advice for Women: "Don't expect it to be easy," Marianne says. "It's a tough job, both physically and mentally - but if you respect yourself and act professionally on the job, you will be treated that way." She stresses that "you don't have to be a weight-lifter, but it helps to be physically fit and to have some mechanical ability." Hand-eye coordination is more important than strength, she says, and "safety is a must."

"Don't be afraid state your opinions or suggest alternatives if you see a more safe or proficient way to accomplish a goal," Marianne says.

Typical Workday/Environment: "The job is exciting," Marianne says, "and usually noisy. There are unexpected changes all the time, so I never get bored." Because she's outdoors, she is always prepared for varying weather conditions.

Energy and adaptability are two of the major requirements in Marianne's field. "Sometimes you're given a new piece of equipment that you have no experience on, so you have to adapt readily," she says. In addition to operating and maintaining heavy equipment, she needs to know how to signal, follow safety precautions, and execute specific procedures depending on her assigned task each day. A blacktop-rolling job, for example, involves the vibratory compaction and smoothing of the final coat of blacktop that goes on to a roadway. Due to traffic requirements, some of these jobs would take place at night.

"I arrive at 7pm," she says, "and get my safety equipment - jacket, hardhat, ear protection - before I approach my machine. I perform a quick walk around, oil and fluid check before starting. I'll ask for fuel if needed, pull up to the fuel truck and then the water truck to fill both the back and front reservoirs. Then I then wait for the rest of the paving crew to get a signal from the foreperson, to follow them out to the job site." During the night, other crewmembers will be performing compaction testing, so Marianne might be asked to change the rolling patterns or vibratory modes of her machine. "Then I'm expected to finish rolling the area and release it for traffic," she says.

"I love the compliments I get on my work and feel great when the State inspector says that I did an awesome job, or that I'm one of the best operators they've worked with," Marianne says.

"I like the ability to be able to run out of the house with no makeup and my hair wet and know that as long as I show up and do my job it doesn't matter what I look like," she says. "I also find new locations interesting, and I get to meet new people all the time."

Career Ladder: Depending on region and your years of experience, salaries for operating construction equipment can range from $15 an hour to more than $50 an hour. In Marianne's case, she receives additional benefits from her employer, over and above her hourly wage, which includes prescription and health benefits, eyeglass coverage, a central and a local pension fund, a savings fund and dental benefits.

While operators advance in salary and rank through the years, she says they generally tend to stay within their positions. To advance to the level of foreperson or supervisor, she recommends getting involved in the Laborers Union, which is the more common route to management.

Professional Associations: Marianne is a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Hobbies: Even when she's not on the job, Marianne like being outside. "I love hiking," she says, "and playing with my four dogs." She also enjoys photography and web page designing.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Operating Engineer based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition


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