Male co-workers and clients have offered Amelia Walker-Ross a lot of unwelcome feedback and recommendations in the 20-plus years she has spent as a mechanic. Proving them wrong has been one of her best experiences on the job.
Trucking is not simply a man’s industry, she says. “It’s an everybody industry. Anybody can do it. As long as you go through the schooling and you want to learn, anybody can be capable of doing the transportation jobs.”
Walker-Ross has proven how true that is. She recently became the first female branch service manager at Penske Canada, supervising and guiding 10 mechanics, ensuring Penske’s Winnipeg shop runs smoothly.
A passion for vehicles
But this is not what she saw herself doing as a teenage girl.
Growing up, Walker-Ross dreamed of a cosmetology career. However, unexpected financial challenges in the family made her pick up a toolbox and a manual at the age of 16, to look under the hood of her mom’s old van. It ignited a passion for working on vehicles, and she would fix family cars in the driveway until she got her first job in a dealership at 18.
Walker-Ross loved her job too much to let unwanted opinions discourage her. She often had to face pushback, when men were telling her she should not be doing ‘men’s work’, and that she should be at home, cooking and cleaning.
But six years later, when she was pregnant with her daughter, she realized it was time for a change. Without knowing anything about trucking, Walker-Ross applied for a lube technician job. She was accepted with open arms.
“I got hired right away. The group of guys I worked with — they were great. They were fantastic, very supportive. I had no pushback from them, unlike in the automotive industry… They didn’t care that I was female. They were very much like, ‘Well, if you can get the job done, let’s get it done.’”
Walker-Ross realized her favorite part of the job is its challenge. There is always room for learning and improvement in the fast-paced and constantly growing industry.
Striving to expand her career options, she applied for a job at Penske four years ago.
After working on the floor servicing trucks, she was quickly promoted to lead the night shift, where she worked with fellow technicians and conducted final checks. Her mornings or late evenings were dedicated to spending as much time with her daughter as she could.
A year and a half ago she was offered a maintenance supervisor position, and after that, she became the first female branch service manager.
Now, Walker-Ross gets to keep her passion for working on trucks, solving challenges and helping others learn and grow.
“I love helping the guys learn the truck. And I very much enjoy that, every day, it’s a new problem. Yeah, that’s my favorite part of it — always learning and growing and changing. Like, we don’t know what the next year’s [truck] model is going to come out with.”
But she still sees room for the industry itself to improve.
To her, the key to attracting more women is to change the wording often used to describe the industry and, therefore, its image.
“It’s not a boys’ club anymore. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, whether it’s replacing a starter or removing a clutch. We [women] can still do it. We still have the same tools they have; we still have the same abilities.”
Pushing past unwelcome comments
This why Walker-Ross’ advice to women who consider a job in trucking is, “Just go for it… If the comments do come out – because sometimes they do – brush them off and keep going.”
Still, she also emphasizes the importance of speaking up and communicating with senior managers and supervisors about unappreciated words and actions in the workplace.
She remembers a time in her previous job when one driver wouldn’t let her work on his truck, even though she was the only licensed technician in the shop during that evening shift. But her boss put his foot down.
“He came out and said, ‘The only option you have this evening is Amelia looking at your truck, and she can get it fixed and back on the road. Or we can put a lube tech, who works with her on this truck, who has no training. And he can try to diagnose it. She will end up having to step in and help him. But you only have these two options. You can start with the lube tech and have him go as long as he can. Or you can accept the fact that we have a female mechanic here, and she is 100% qualified to work on your truck and she will get it going for you.’”
It was one of the times Walker-Ross proved them wrong. In less than an hour, the diagnostics were complete, the damaged part was changed, and the truck was back on the road.
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