A career as a heavy vehicle and plant mechanic probably isn’t first choice for most 15-year old girls, yet at that age Louise Azzopardi commenced her apprenticeship with Cummins Engines, eventually earning her trade qualifications in Heavy Commercial vehicles and Mobile Plant equipment.
“My Year 10 electives were woodwork, and textiles and design and I loved the process of creating,” says Louise. “I was making dresses and skirts and for a brief moment before I set myself on the course of mechanics, I thought maybe I can get myself into the design world.”
According to Louise her biggest influence has been her family even though they are not in trucking. They encouraged her to seek experience outside from the agricultural industry and to apply her natural mechanical aptitude to her apprenticeship at Cummins.
“My family grows crops such as tomatoes and I was always outside working with my hands picking, packing, doing maintenance and repairing,” she recalls. “On the farm if something broke you just fixed it.”
At just 17 years old Louise was the first among the five second year apprentices at Cummins to get responsibility of their own engine rebuild.
A Cummins ISX in a Western Star had a blown head gasket caused by a dropped liner and Louise completed all phases of the engine rebuild from the initial fault diagnosis and root cause analysis, disassembly and inspection of the parts, reassembly, fluid replenishment and preparation for start-up.
“I was nervous and excited as I was sitting in the driver’s seat, my eyes on the oil pressure gauge and ears listening out for any noises,” she says. “It started on the third go! No noises, no leaks and good oil pressure! That was an amazing moment and was the first of many engines I have rebuilt.”
To broaden her experience Louise moved to a role of technical trainer and assessor at Newcastle Caterpillar equipment distributor Westrac, teaching Heavy Vehicle and Plant mechanics whose ages ranged from 16-45 years and were a mix of apprentices and students upgrading from their previous trade education.
“Stepping into this role I was prepared to have to fight for respect and I am pleased to say that that has not been the case. We are a team of trainers who work together and understand we all have different strengths and weaknesses. We regularly bounce off each other and leverage any complementary skills we each have as individuals to achieve the best outcome as a team.”
The students also respect Louise. On most occasions she is usually the only female in the room and quite often the youngest as well.
“Working at Westrac gave me hope that the sexist mentality is on its way out and I urge everyone to do whatever they can to create a workplace culture where all genders feel welcome and valued,” she says.
The increasingly complex technologies of modern trucks, as Louise sees it, is not a major issue for those who service and repair them.
“If you keep an open mind with a new technology you should still look at the basics and know how it’s supposed to work and go from there. Most people will handle it OK if they have that mindset,” she says.
Not unlike drivers, many mechanics have a ‘brand mentality’ and feel they can only work effectively with one brand according to Louise. A similar attitude can be applied to technology as well.
“I’m not one who is brand proud. People ask me if I prefer Cat or Cummins,” she says. “They all need to be serviced and repaired and that keeps me in a job, so I’m not fazed.”
In early 2021 Louise is making another career move and relocating back to Sydney from Newcastle to take on a new role with a medium-sized registered training organisation working mainly with international students on the servicing and repair of trucks.
Away from her core work, Louise has progressed to become an in-demand presenter and speaker at numerous industry events and regards this latest move as an opportunity to have more time to devote to her public speaking, mentoring and coaching.
“I love not just sharing my story but also the life lessons I’ve learned along the way through some of the mistakes and challenges I’ve faced,” she adds. “I also want to show other girls and women they can do it as well.”
WorldSkills is considered the largest global trades and skills competition in which Louise won first place in Australia in 2016, eventually achieving fourth at the world finals held in Abu Dhabi in 2017.
Louise has since progressed to becoming Chief Judge for the Heavy Vehicle technician category for the 2021 event scheduled for Perth in August 2021. Louise is the youngest in the judging team.
“I’m really proud of them. There is a lot of diversity within the team including one other female and a few people are from non- Australian backgrounds. There’s a significant age range and the fact we can work together as a team, I just love it!”
During her mid-teens Louise says she went through a phase where she thought being a tomboy was the only way she could be a mechanic.
A lot has changed and while she still enjoys such pursuits as four-wheel driving and riding dirt bikes, Louise manages to retain a high degree of femininity.
“I also enjoy dressing up, doing my hair and my makeup, and getting my nails done,” she says.