Unified’s 60-year-old Kerry Marks isn’t your archetypal heavy industry Site Manager—but after twelve years of service at OneSteel’s site in Whyalla, it’s a well-deserved responsibility. In a role that merges security with emergency services, Kerry leads a dexterous team; a team that’s been scrupulously trained to respond to an array of high-stakes emergency situations. Here, she discusses taking an atypical career path, how women have the potential to bend and break rigid stereotypes and her multifaceted role on OneSteel’s 1000 square hectare site.
Can you tell us a bit about your role and your day-to-day?
I’ve been working at Unified on the OneSteel site in Whyalla, South Australia, for seven years. I’m now a Site Manager for this heavy industry site. Iron Ore from the mines about half an hour away comes to Whyalla and from there, OneSteel make different types and grades of steel.
But my role is not just about security—Unified staff provide emergency services like attending to any medical emergencies or fires. So we have emergency services officers and we have security guards—the difference being the latter doesn’t have a Certificate IV Health Care Ambulance. We also provide customer service, onsite access and inductions. We of course, do generalised security, too, completing rounds at night and during the day.
Not everyone has broad experience, so I’m always training someone in one area or another. It takes a good two years to feel comfortable about this site. A lot of my job is focused on making sure everyone’s working together and communicating well—with the people we manage, with One Steel, and with clients.
As the Site Manager of such a large project, what qualifications or training do you have?
The first thing you have to have is a Security License. Next up, I got my Industrial Ambulance Officer Cert 4.
You must also complete a Drug and Alcohol course to be able to test others for those things. You have to be able to drive vehicles larger than just a car, so I have my MR license. I’m also qualified in certificate II Public Safety (Firefighting and Emergency Operations); a certificate I acquired when I worked in fire service prior to this role. Other qualifications I have are in vertical rope rescue, confined space rescue and maritime security, because there’s a port here. Traffic control is another requirement, so I’ve also done a traffic management course. All of these skills you may bring with you, or you can learn through onsite training.
Let’s backtrack a little. What compelled you to enter this line of work in the first place?
I’ve always been a hands-on person. My background is dental nursing, and I worked at an aged-care facility for sixteen and-a-half years. I also have an interest in the fire service, but broadly speaking it’s my interest in using my hands and helping others. This job has a lot of variety to it and I had a lot of the required skills already, making it a very natural progression.
I’m interested in the stereotype that these lines of work are heavily male-dominated. Is that a true perception or a misconception? How have you challenged or risen above these stereotypes?
Roles in dental nursing and aged-care are very much the opposite—female dominated. But I was very eager to learn when I got to the MFS (Metropolitan Fire Service) [where Kerry worked before joining Unified Security]—and indeed, I found it very challenging.
It was hard to find many of the guys that would give me the time [as a new starter]. The bulk of the group was male and when you throw a female in—particularly one of my age (I would have been late thirties or early forties, compared to maybe someone a bit younger), possibly you’re not as approachable. There were maybe two or three guys who were prepared to help me out, and that was because they would help everyone out: that’s just the sort of people they were. There were 25 total staff, and only about three women at any given time.
How were you able to ensure you were rigorous with your on-the-job training despite these adversities?
I had to learn to become a stronger and more confident person who could say, “Just because I’m a female doesn't mean I can’t do the job”. Because regardless of how heavy the equipment was, I could manage it. I actually applied twice for the MFS and didn't get in the first time because i wasn't physically strong enough. So I started going to the gym to train my upper body so that I could fulfil what was required.
I’m a big advocate of promoting females because I've always felt throughout my career that females get told “okay you're only good for this but you're not good for that.” But no—you can do anything in life. You just have to think, “Actually, yes I can” and take on that challenge.
That’s so relevant now more than ever with this new wave of feminism.
I’m passionate about females. And it’s taken me a long time to know that I “can do”. Now I will always encourage, regardless of age, that you Can Do!
What advice would you give to those aspiring to enter into your profession?
Be patient, understanding and open-minded. Be prepared to do more than the job description. Learn as much on the job as you can. Develop initiative to work and make decisions independently and also as a team.
What skills have you learned from your line of work that you’ve carried into your personal life?
In having to deal with emergency situations, whether medical or a fire, I've learned to forward-think. Communication is huge.
I’d love to be able to be able to mentor young women: I’d tell them to be confident, happy, positive and to strive for something—because you can do it. It might take a long time, but you can do it.
Life's a long journey and I still think I've got good working life in me. Even though Mr. Turnbull seems to think we need to work until we’re 70 I always say I’ll be working until I’m 90! We need money to live and for a female, super is so important. Because women may wish to have children, there’s often a big gap in superannuation. That’s why I always say I’ll be working until I’m 90 in my gopher with a red light on it and a fire hose!