Where are They Now Series

Laura Allen

Process Owner, Woodside
Winner of the 2021 Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia Women in Resources Award

Since starting her electrical apprenticeship twenty years ago, Laura Allen has developed a reputation for her enthusiasm, passion for the electrical trade and natural leadership.

Formerly an Electrical Group Training (EGT) apprentice, she has worked in a variety of roles within the resources sector, purposefully finding new opportunities and never being afraid to give something new a go.

EGT was pleased to interview Laura, where she shared her exciting journey, the lessons learned and her insight that being electrician is not just a job, it’s a career.

What are some of the highlights of your career?

When I started my apprenticeship, I was so excited. I just wanted to be a sparky and I loved that I was getting paid to learn and work with my hands. I worked in Perth with different host employers across the domestic, commercial, construction and industrial sectors. Then I set my sights on working up north.

At the time, it was unusual for a female apprentice to be sent to site from Perth, but I really wanted to work there, so I decided to move to Karratha. Once I had somewhere to live, EGT arranged a placement for me at a host contractor on a Pilbara Iron site where I stayed until after I completed my apprenticeship.

I then spent 18-months working in communications and fibre optics, before going to work with a contractor at the Karratha Gas Plant, in a lighting campaign team. It was there that I got my hazardous areas certificate and on-the-job experience working with instrumentation electricians. The next step involved obtaining my instrumentation accreditation.

Having these skills positioned me for offshore work, and after the challenges of getting my foot in the door, I spent twelve years working in a variety of roles. Woodside became the vessel owner in 2012, I completed two projects in Singapore with this vessel. I also worked my way up to being the Registered Person Electrical (RPE). That was a major milestone for me and for Woodside too, as I was the first female to work in that role. My next step was to cross into operations and from there I became Woodside’s first offshore female Process Maintenance Co-Ordinator (PMC).

It was after my second project in Singapore that I took a temporary transfer into my current role at Woodside’s Perth office. I’m a Process Owner and am responsible for overseeing all of the operations processes for seven assets, both on and offshore. I assess and manage operational risks and support managers in the safe running of all their assets. It’s been a fantastic and exciting opportunity. I’m almost at the end of my transfer and I’m waiting to see where I’ll go next. I want to keep growing, learning and building my skills.

You’ve actively looked for growth opportunities in your work.

Yes, I have. Not long after I became a tradesperson, we were going into a shut down on site and three of the team weren’t available to work. That left me, the Site Manager and his wife who was a labourer. The Site Manager was set to cancel the shut, but I assured him that his wife and I could do the work. He wasn’t convinced, but I believed the work was within my capabilities, so he agreed we could get started. He left site to go and find other tradies to give us a hand, but by the time he came back, we’d completed all the work including the testing and lock off. Everything was ready to go back online.

Following our success my employer offered me a Leading Hand role; however, I had an ‘aha’ moment and decided to resign. I realised I was always going to be seen as the ‘apprentice’ on that site despite having become a fully-fledged electrician and felt I wouldn’t grow if I stayed. Each time I’ve mastered my role, I’ve started looking for the next challenge.

And the challenges haven’t always been electrical ones.

When I worked in communications and fibre optics, I travelled on my own all over the northwest. It was lonely at times. I’d be driving six to eight hours by myself through the desert. There was no one to bounce ideas off, and working solo gave me a true understanding of myself and my capabilities.

Sometimes it was scary. One time, I’d just left Port Hedland, and there was a rogue cow on the road. I slowed and it ambled into the bushes, but as I passed, it charged me and hit the car. The police attended the site, dealt with the cow, then left me to wait (in my now undrivable car) for my boss to arrive. Not long after they left, the herd arrived out of nowhere and started rocking the car. When I got out, they followed me until I climbed a tree. Luckily four guys turned up in a vehicle and scared the herd off, except they then started to raid my car. I’d left my valuables on the dashboard so leapt out of the tree to stop them. I was in a very vulnerable situation. Fortunately, it all ended well. My boss wasn’t too far away and he arrived soon after they left, but it was a long tow back to Karratha.

The fact is, no one prepares you for situations like that. You think you’re prepared for life, but so many things happen that you don’t expect. You have to be resourceful and courageous.

You’ve been described as a natural leader. How have you developed your leadership skills?

Becoming a Leading Hand at the Karratha Gas Plant taught me what leadership really meant. As a Leading Hand, you’re often caught in the middle, reporting to managers, but also looking after a team.

At this stage I was twenty-two, highly motivated and determined to succeed. I was setting hard targets and expecting the world from my team, who didn’t respond well to my approach. One day I went home particularly discouraged, wondering what was happening.

At our team meeting the next day, I apologised for how I’d approached things and asked for the team’s help. I told them I was there for open feedback; I wanted to be a good boss, not their enemy. I asked them what it would take.

This was a real turning point. All my team-members were experienced leaders. They were using their skills, earning good money and were very proud of their work. They’d ‘iced me’, not because I was young or female or gay, but because of how I’d approached them. I hadn’t appreciated what their work involved and the finesse it required. They took me under their wing and I learned from the best. It built my leadership qualities and took me to the next level.

Earlier this year, your industry leadership was recognised you won a 2021 Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia Women in Resources Award. Can you tell us about that?

I won the Outstanding Operator/Technician/Trade Woman in Resources Award, which recognises women who have broken new ground for women in non-traditional fields and contributed to the resources sector and broader community.

Since then, I’ve had the chance to present to a number of industry forums including the Australian Oil and Gas Conference, Women in Mining and Resources Leadership Summit and Women in Mining in the Pilbara Forum.

When I wrote the submission, it made me reflect on my career. I realised I’ve achieved a lot without stopping to reflect on this – I’ve had to work hard at every gate. In my roles, hurdles often looked like blockers and sometimes it felt like people were trying to stop me. I realised these obstacles were actually enablers that made me think more laterally, work harder and be more effective. I’ve had to navigate many challenges, but they don’t define me. It’s the negative experiences that have taught me the most and helped me to grow.

How did doing your apprenticeship through EGT contribute to your success?

The best thing about EGT, was rotating through different host employers and industry sectors. The exposure to so many areas gave me the foundation for everything I’ve done in my life. Doing metropolitan domestic work may seem a long way from working offshore, but I’ve drawn on all the experiences my apprenticeship gave me. Working offshore has relied on my industrial skills, domestic experience to support the residential sections, construction skills when we took the vessel to Singapore for refurbishment. It all linked back to the fundamentals from my apprenticeship.

Being able to move around, rather than stay in a single sector, has made all the difference to my technical career. It also kept my mindset open, rather than narrowing my focus to any one part of industry.

What advice would you give to current apprentices?

Being an electrician is a career rather than just a job. When you become an apprentice, the goal is to get your ticket and become a tradie, but it’s actually much bigger than that. I didn’t realise that until I was well down the path. You can start as a housing sparky and end up as an offshore manager if you work hard.

You have to be on the lookout, be open and never say no. If you want something, and someone says no, then find another way to work towards your goal. It’s all about the journey, which for me is never ending. I thought I’d be an electrician forever, but now I’m in an office managing risk across multiple assets.

Doing an apprenticeship is a bit like getting the key to the kingdom. Once you unlock the door, it’s up to you about what you do, how you use it and where you want to go.

Gary Clementson
Actor and Marriage Celebrant

EGT has long been committed to ensuring industry has a steady supply of quality, qualified electricians ready to meet Australia’s electrical demands. The majority of the time, when we talk to former EGT apprentices we celebrate their career progression and the many opportunities they have enjoyed within the electrical industry. But what happens when life takes them in a different direction?

EGT believes that all the learning and experiences we accumulate over time make us what we are today. No-one provides a better example of this than Gary Clementson, who after his apprenticeship, went on to become an actor and marriage celebrant.

“I joined EGT when I was twenty and got a placement with Team Electrical. I had the chance to work with Alan Charlton, who was an amazing mentor. He really guided me through my apprenticeship and went that extra mile. I ended up doing my whole apprenticeship with Alan, working on commercial and industrial projects. I loved the camaraderie and being part of the team. Alan had staff barbecues every month and we did lots of team activities together like paint balling. I had such a great apprenticeship.”

“As my apprenticeship progressed, I applied for and won several EGT awards. I then went on to win NECA National and Group Training Australia (WA) awards. I was also part of the Today’s Skills Tomorrow’s Leaders program through Group Training Australia.”

Today’s Skills, Tomorrow’s Leaders was a national leadership program that helped participants identify and achieve what was important to their career and life in general. “We had a week away in Canberra, where we talked to politicians and presented at Parliament House. They worked with us to break down what our skills were, what we really enjoyed and what we wanted out of life,” Gary explained. “It was on that course that I decided I wanted to do something more creative and started to think about acting.”

“Around the same time, I also competed in the Avon Descent and raised money for Epilepsy WA. That led me to being part of a televised panel discussion recorded in front of a live audience, which I really enjoyed. I started doing acting classes at night while I was finishing my electrical apprenticeship.”

Once Gary had passed his capstone, he auditioned for both the WA Academy of Performing Arts and the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney. When he was accepted for both, he elected to move to Sydney, where he went on to receive his Bachelor of Performing Arts. From there his acting career took off and he is now known for his roles in Blue Murder Killer Cop, A Place to Call Home, The Code and most recently as a guest star on Home and Away.

Earlier this year, Gary also became a certified Marriage Celebrant and recently launched his new website. “I love working with people and being creative. It’s all about having fun and having a good laugh.”

Even though Gary’s career has taken him into acting and hosting weddings, he is still part of the electrical industry. He subcontracts as an electrician in Sydney for a couple of days each week in between auditions. “I knew when I finished my apprenticeship that I would always have something to fall back on. Most of the actors I know have part-time jobs and for me, that’s being a sparky.”

“If you’re an apprentice working through your certificate, my advice is to make sure you follow it through all the way to the end.It’s definitely worth it, because you have it for life. I work with and mentor apprentices who are trailing behind in their off-the-job training and it’s so much harder for them. I know it can be tempting to pack it in during your third or fourth year, but don’t give up. Keep up with your studies. Have fun.”

“Doing your apprenticeship with group training is especially good because if you don’t like a field that you’re working in, there are plenty of other fields you can try. With group training you have that chance to ask for new placements and move around to find the area that you enjoy working in the most. You can do anything if you set your mind to it.”

“Although my career focus is on acting and being a marriage celebrant, my electrical apprenticeship was so worthwhile. EGT provided me with a solid work ethic and so many opportunities to travel, meet people, deliver presentations and do extra training that wasn’t covered by the apprenticeship. It was fantastic.”

“I owe a lot to Alan Charlton from Team Electrical and Stuart Diepeveen from EGT for their support and guidance. They held me to high standards. I remember when I had put together one of my award portfolios and I showed it to Alan. He didn’t look very impressed and he gave me some tips on things he thought I could improve. When I took the portfolio back a week later, he told me that he’d actually thought the first portfolio was great. He just wanted to see what I’d do with his suggestions. It was this sort of prompting that helped me be the best I could be.”

As a closing thought, Gary shared a lesson he learned from Ian Hutchinson who facilitated the Today’s Skills, Tomorrows Leaders program. “He said, ‘You have to live a life by design, not a life by default.’ That has really resonated with me over the years and as a result I now get to pursue my dreams and live a happy, interesting life.”

EGT has long prided itself on the training and experience it provides, not just with regards to practical hand skills and electrical knowledge, but also in terms of life skills. A strong work ethic, resilience, persistence, initiative and team work are just some of the qualities that EGT works to instil in apprentices so they are well prepared, no matter where their career takes them. EGT is proud to have provided a solid starting point for many people and we’re inspired by the stories of all our former apprentices, who have taken the skills from their apprenticeships and used them to make their mark.

We wish Gary all the best with his future endeavours.

Claire Hogue
Project Manager, ECM

An electrical apprenticeship opens the door to a broad range of work options and an interesting and varied career path. No one knows this better than Claire Hogue, a former Electrical Group Training (EGT) apprentice who completed her off-the-job training at the College of Electrical Training (CET) and is now working as a Project Manager for ECM. Late last year we spoke to Claire about the range of opportunities she’s been offered that have positioned her for her current role.

As an EGT apprentice, Claire had the opportunity to work in the commercial, mining, switchboard manufacturing and maintenance sectors, enjoying the diversity of work and the opportunity to travel all over Western Australia. Claire’s dedication to her work and learning her trade resulted in her being runner up for the 2006 EGT First Year Apprentice of the Year Awards and a finalist for the 2007 awards.

The combination of her varied work experience through EGT and her training at CET provided the grounding for Claire’s career progression. “When I started at CET I was one of only a few women in training. The staff and students were very welcoming and it was a positive place to be” said Claire. “The campus facilities were great and the staff were very flexible and provided a personalised service. They gave lots of support, especially prior to the Capstone assessment, when they provided additional training and opportunities to strengthen our theory.”

Since completing her apprenticeship in 2009, Claire has worked in a variety of roles, including Leading Hand, Estimator, Senior Contract Manager, Planning Engineer and Site Superintendent, which involved managing both the electrical and mechanical trades. She was also responsible for setting up ECM’s Queensland office, which gave her experience in the day-to-day running of a business. Through these roles, Claire has developed and refined her management and technical skills, allowing her to move into Project Management.

“I’ve been very lucky to have lots of variety in my career,” said Claire. “It’s been interesting work and I’ve had the chance to see all sides of the business. That’s given me a good, well-rounded understanding of the projects I’ve worked on from both a technical and a management perspective.”

In her current position, Claire is working on two major projects: the refurbishment of non-processing infrastructure at BHP’s Jimblebar Mine in Newman and power infrastructure at Garden Island for the Defence Force.

“I love the challenge of my role - every project is different,” explained Claire. “The project at Garden Island has been particularly intense and hands-on. We need to carry out our work with minimal disruption to the Defence Force’s activities and communication and stakeholder management has been very important. I manage Jimblebar remotely so it’s not as hands-on for me, but again it’s heavily reliant on good communication and bringing together a great team.”

“I enjoy working with my project teams. I’ve found that a positive, cohesive team environment is critical throughout all stages of the project lifecycle. Making the most of everyone’s skills and being part of something we can achieve together is very satisfying.”

Claire’s passion for the trade and her success in her work makes her a fantastic role model for young women who are looking to enter the electrical trade.

“When I was an apprentice and first went to work on the mines, it was at a time when there weren’t many females in the industry,” Claire explained. “There was some caution about sending me up there, but I had no problems at all.”

“As a female in the trade, I’ve always felt the need to put 110% into my work,” Claire said. “The reality is that the industry mainly has male workers, so clients naturally tend to assume they’ll be working with men. Sometimes they’re initially surprised when they find out they’ll be working with me, but I’ve always been well received and accepted by everyone.”
When we asked Claire if she had any advice for young women thinking of entering the trade, she noted the following: “I think that anyone thinking of an electrical apprenticeship, whether they’re male or female, should get a good explanation of what they’re entering into before they start. Women in particular need to think about their career plan. It’s good to have an idea of how long you want to be on the tools and where you want to go after that. There’s lots of opportunities but you need to be prepared to take them.”

“I also think that apprentices should take every possible opportunity to learn from the people around them. They should seek feedback from their supervisors and employers. They shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and learn new skills.”

The opportunity to work with different employers in different sectors provided a strong foundation for Claire’s learning, as did EGT’s commitment to pastoral care. “Looking back, I really valued having my Field Officer when I was at EGT. It was reassuring to have someone to talk to that I wasn’t working with directly. I really think apprentices should make the most of that support.”

Claire continues to follow her own advice as she takes on new opportunities and progresses her career. Eventually she’d like to move into a business management role, but for now Claire is focussed on seeing her current long-term projects through to successful completion.

EGT and CET are very happy to see former apprentices enjoying their roles and having access to so many opportunities. We wish Claire all the best with her future endeavours.