REVVED UP: Apprentice diesel mechanic at RH Taylor Trucks in Coffs Harbour, Niki Ahrens.
REVVED UP: Apprentice diesel mechanic at RH Taylor Trucks in Coffs Harbour, Niki Ahrens. Bruce Thomas

Young females taking on tough jobs

SISTERS are doing it for themselves in the transport industry on the Coffs Coast.

Nineteen-year-old Christina Casiraghi at Skinner Motors might be the region’s only female car mechanic, but ahead of her on the local trade training ladder are two apprentice diesel mechanics, 21- year-olds Melissa Wheeler and Niki Ahrens, while 19-year-old Ashleigh Read has just put her foot on the ladder as an apprentice truck parts interpreter.

Melissa Wheeler, who is now in the third year of her four-year apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic at Busways in Coffs Harbour is leading the way, while Niki Ahrens, a second-year apprentice diesel mechanic at RH Taylor Trucks, is just behind her.

Ashleigh Read joined RH Taylor Trucks three weeks ago as their first apprentice parts technician.

Big engines have always been part of life for Melissa Wheeler, the daughter of a Tamworth-based truck driver, who worked in retail before getting an apprenticeship.

“I grew up going to trucking shows,” Melissa said.

“I knew I wanted to work with heavy machinery.

“My dad was a bit shocked at the beginning.

“I think he saw me working in retail or in an office, but he is very supportive now.

“At Busways we pretty much do everything, working on the bus fleet.

“Rebuilding motors is my favourite part of the job.”

Over at RH Taylor Trucks, Niki Ahrens says becoming a diesel mechanic was simply something she wanted to do.

A hands-on woman, Niki owned her own lawn mowing business at Lake Macquarie for three years, doing her own services and maintenance on the mowers herself before moving with her family to Coffs Harbour three years ago.

She is unfazed by the move from small engines to really big engines, but would like to get her truck driver’s licence so she could test-drive the big rigs.

One thing that had to give in to her career move was her waist-length blonde hair, which she recently cut to shoulder length – just in time.

“I used to have really long hair and I cut it off a few weeks ago, then I was working underneath a truck and I dunked my head in the oil pan – it took nine washes of shampoo; then my boyfriend used dishwashing liquid and hand soap on it – we even used petrol to get it out.”

With her spare-time activities including four-wheel-driving, building parts of her house and boxing, Niki’s firm handshake is no surprise.

Hair wasn’t the problem for Ashleigh Read, when she started work as an apprentice spare parts interpreter at RH Taylor three weeks ago, nor was the work, which she loves. Clothes were the problem. The diminutive apprentice had to have her (size 3) work boots and work pants specially ordered to fit her.

“I get to meet heaps of people from everywhere, because of the truck drivers; I like being out of the office and I like getting my hands dirty,” Ashleigh said.

“There are not many girls doing this, but I don’t know why.

“The stuff I am learning is amazing.”

Now she wants to learn to drive a truck as well as find parts for them, with her goal being the wheel of an Iveco Power Star big rig.

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