Women in Transport - Letting the Kat out to play!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Looking after her wee girl, driving big trucks, spending time with family, maintaining two Facebook pages and helping a friend with a yoga class! It’s a stretch, but the amazing Kat Hall fits it all in.

Christchurch truck driver Kat Hall says she’s known as Lippy Sheila at Lyttelton Port.

“I’m not sure if that’s because I wear bright coloured lippy every now and then or because of the smart comebacks I have!” she laughs.

After leaving school at the age of 15, Kat started a computer course at her local community college. “From there my first part-time job was a receptionist at a garage and I managed to pick up a few basic mechanical skills along the way, which came in handy.”

Kat spent about 15 years working in and out of retail, as well as doing a travel and tourism course at CPIT in Christchurch.

“When I finished there I applied for and was offered a job with Jetstar to train as a flight attendant. That was great, however I discovered I was pregnant with my first child so that put a rather big halt on that career! I spent about a year as a stay-at-home mum, which I loved, but was always keen to get back into the workforce. I thought long and hard about what I could do and thought ‘well, I enjoy driving in general so why not truck driving?’ I had a bit of a soft spot for big rigs and thought
it would be a cool job!”

Kat says her mother was not so keen on her getting into such large vehicles but her father was all for it.

“I was a tomboy growing up so it was no surprise to him that I was never going be happy stuck in retail.” Unfortunately Kat’s mother passed away before she got the chance to see her driving a truck and trailer. “In a way that was a bittersweet blessing in disguise, although she is probably shaking her head now in disapproval up there!

My father told me he used to drive trucks in the RAF [Royal Air Force] and he said if you can drive over 30 tonne you have beaten your father, which didn’t take too long to do!

We catch up at least once a week and have a good chat about my job. He is proud and supportive and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better than my dad.”

Kat has now been driving trucks for two and half years. She says truck driving had always been in the back of her mind but for a year she kept putting off getting her licence. “Finally I went for my class 2, dangerous goods and forklift licences.”

Kat’s first job was through a temp agency as a class 2 flatdeck driver, something she says was the best way to gain experience. “My first temp job was with Move Logistics contracting for GIB, driving a single axle flatdeck carting GIB board all over Christchurch and North Canterbury. I had some real driving tests with hill climbs, starts, reversing etc, as well as working my muscly peas [biceps] lol!”

Kat says she learned a lot more techniques in that job than she had expected. “From there I applied for a job on Trade Me with another company. I was there for two years; I started out class 2 freight, then moved up to class 4 freight and class 5 containers.”

Above: It's a busy life, but she wouldn't miss a second! Kat Hall, yet another inspirational woman in the transport industry.

When Kat decided to move on from that company she asked on Facebook if her contacts knew of anyone looking for a driver. “I had a private message sent through to me about an owner-driver named Andy Vuleta who was looking for someone who would drive his old school International while he was recovering from surgery. I was still a bit green on the 18-speed Roadranger at that stage, but by the time the six weeks were up, I was a lot more confident.”

Kat says she can’t thank Andy enough for giving her that opportunity. “The whole atmosphere within the company was so much different from what I was used to and I felt welcomed and respected as a female driver so I decided to ask the boss if he would consider taking me on as a kind of semi-permanent seat warmer. I couldn’t commit to a full-time position due to having split custody of my wee girl, and NZ Express were more than obliging to work around that, which was really awesome.” 

Kat’s hours vary week to week, usually starting around 7am and working until between 5pm and 7pm depending on the workload. “Alternate weeks I start around 10am and work until 2pm or 3pm so I can pick my daughter up from preschool. I work within a 50km radius of Christchurch, so anything from Woolston to Rolleston and out to North Canterbury and of course Lyttelton Port.”

Kat says there can be a bit of pressure to get containers delivered on time due to traffic, etc and some destinations can be demanding to get in and out of at times, but she enjoys the challenge.

Kat runs a group on Facebook called the (Female Only Group) NZ Women Truckies, which she set up originally because she knew there were many truck driver groups out there but not many that were female-only.

“It was definitely nothing against the males, and it hasn’t put them off trying to join the group!” she laughs. “The group, from the members’ point of view, has been described as awesome, friendly, great, informative and supportive, which is enough incentive for me to keep the group growing. I also recently started a page called Supporting NZ Women in Logistics & Transport, which both men and women can follow.

“I would also like to educate people on the road more around trucks; there are still too many accidents causing serious injury or death, and most of the time they could have been avoided.”

One thing Kat is keen to stress is that truck driving is an equal opportunity career and it’s not a matter of which sex does it better.

“Men and women have strengths in their own ways – it’s not a competition. I believe this once male-dominated industry has really opened up to females getting into a truck and doing the same work. More and more companies are taking women on, which is fantastic.”

Above: The truck that taught Kat the finer art of Roadranger operation. There are no limits to the heights any woman can reach in trucking now.

Kat says NZ Express is an exceptional employer. “I was very impressed to find when I started there were six female drivers, including two swinglifters! Not only that, but they also had two female dispatchers, something that I wasn’t used to but thought was just amazing!”

This is in stark contrast to another company where Kat was told by a manager that women shouldn’t be in the transport industry. “That only made me push harder for supporting women. I don’t plan on giving up until I get some results – and maybe not even then.”

In addition to the Facebook groups supporting female truckers, the 33-year-old mother of one assists a friend with yoga classes.

“I catch up with family and friends and my partner as much as possible, as well as driving a truck 80 hours a fortnight, give or take. It’s safe to say I don’t have a lot of spare time, however I wouldn’t have it any other way.”