While studying an Arts degree, Rowena Kilbourne’s dream was to sculpt steel into works of art. Today she is a welder at one of the country’s biggest trailer manufacturers.
Rowena is close to finishing a welding apprenticeship with MaxiTRANS at the company’s Ballarat manufacturing facility. She says she loves her work, forging molten metal to her will, connecting, joining, finishing the main rails that, in their lifetime, will possibly carry a million tonnes or more of freight on Australia’s highways.
Her career began when she enrolled in a TAFE course for welding to further the creative side of her arts degree. With her husband, Nathan, the couple learned the craft and process of welding. A Cert II qualification opened the door to employment with MaxiTRANS for the couple.
To keep life interesting, partway through her apprenticeship, Rowena fell pregnant and today she is a proud mother of Colt, her 19-month-old son. She is on the cusp of completion of her apprenticeship after seven years with MaxiTRANS.
As a welder, Rowena works mostly on the main chassis rails for MaxiTRANS trailer brands, Freighter and Maxi-CUBE. These foundations of a trailer’s long life are fabricated from flat plate steel and are processed through an automated welder. They are then inspected and finished off by the welding team.
Rowena works on the wide range of trailers that are built at the Ballarat plant: semi-trailers, tautliners, vans for refrigerated and dry goods, as well as roll-back lead trailers.
“We also fabricate the main rails for our Hamelex White tipper products produced at our Ballarat site, whether they go through the automatic welder or if they are off-set. For off-set tipper rails we have a jig we use to tac-weld them, before they are fully welded down the line.”
When she became pregnant, Rowena says MaxiTRANS supported her through 18 weeks of maternity leave and the opportunity to extend the leave for a further 12 months.
She chose to take 10 months of leave and returned to work.
“They were happy to have me when I was ready. They never pushed or anything, which was really nice.”
Balancing motherhood and work is definitely a learning challenge, says Rowena, and finding a balance can be difficult.
“But it’s something I enjoy,” she said, “having time to watch Colt grow on my off-days is really good. It’s all working out well so far.”
Working three days a week at present, Rowena has trade school on Friday, so the flexibility of shifts afforded by MaxiTRANS works for her.
“I only have two units to complete. I’m pretty close to finishing and that’s really exciting.”
Rowena’s husband Nathan worked for some years with MaxiTRANS and he then completed a Cert 4 Training and Assessment course and now teaches welding at the Federation University TAFE in Ballarat.
Rowena says the workplace culture is great and continues to change for the better since Australian Trailer Solutions Group (ATSG) took over the MaxiTRANS business in September 2021.
“I really enjoy working for the company. The new MaxiTRANS under ATSG is continuing to make improvements and creating a very supportive environment for its staff.”
According to Rowena, there are numerous career paths open to MaxiTRANS workers.
“I’d like to become a welding inspector or even go down the training route. Be a mentor even, I’d love to go there. I’m excited about it, but I have to get confidence in myself first.”