“I ain't sayin’ she a gold digger”. Well, actually we are, and an extraordinary one at that! Sam Inskip is a woman who will let nothing stand in her way. She has built her career crushing both cliffs and stereotypes. Her passion for big machines has led her to working her dream job as a heavy equipment operator.
Sam’s daily commute throughout the epic Canadian mountainside is something out of a fairytale. Her “office” consists of fresh mountain air, powerful machines and absolutely incredible scenery. Sam broke into the industry when she was just 19 years old and has been paving the way for women in the operating industry ever since. Excelling at what she does in a heavily male dominated industry is no easy feat, yet Sam pulls it off with style! Her beaming smile shines throughout her Instagram feed, no matter the challenges that have been thrown at her.
Sam’s outlook on life and her work is nothing short of inspirational. Being a powerhouse of a human means that you’re usually pretty busy! But we were lucky enough to catch up with her for a chat, where she shared with us some gold nuggets of wisdom. Sam gives us the scoop on all things life, love and loaders.. In the words of Sammy “I can’t believe I get paid for this”.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN AN EQUIPMENT OPERATOR AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU INTO THE PROFESSION?
Now at the age of 27, I took my heavy equipment operator foundations course 8 years ago, at the age of 19. I had made a whirl wind decision to change career paths after realizing one hour in a mini excavator had me feeling more spark, excitement, and passion than my entire first year of university had. I was hooked.
I spent my first year in industry as a labourer, learning that hard work makes me happy and dirty hands make me feel accomplished. Although it wasn’t always easy, I typically proved myself and my abilities quickly. After meeting the love of my life, we decided to move from BC to the Yukon, where we now call home. I was offered an opportunity of a life time to begin my operating career as a gold miner, and that is where my passion grew and my skills increased. I have worked a variety of positions involving different scopes of work since and have loved every moment of it. Long story short, I have been a heavy equipment operator for approximately 7 years.
Operating came into my life in a funny way. I hadn’t really grown up around it, and it certainly wasn’t on my list of future careers as a young girl. It started to gain my interest when I became friends with a group of really down to earth people. People who enjoyed back roads and bonfires, who were capable of building and fixing things with their hands, an overlooked group, maybe a little harder off than some, but they were smart, hardworking, and welcomed me in. It was during my first summer home for university, unhappy, a little lost, and unsure if I wanted to go back to school, that an opportunity arose. A friends step dad, a contractor, was short workers and asked if I’d like to tag along on a few jobs. He let me in my very first excavator, that mini I spoke of earlier. I dug a small trench to plant shrubs along a drive way. There was no looking back.
Something you’ll learn about me very quickly, if I set my mind on something, I got for it, both feet forward. It was only a short time later that I was accepted into my equipment course, graduated at the top of my class, entered the field and continued growing my qualifications by getting my Class 1 drivers license and keeping small certifications up to date.
WHAT DID YOUR EDUCATION/TRAINING CONSIST OF TO BECOME AN EQUIPMENT OPERATOR?
There are many talented people in my field that I look up to that have never had formal training for operating. Depending on your individual situation, jurisdiction that you’re in and the types of companies you are looking to get on with, you may not need formal training. However, I highly recommend it, as I believe my course set me on the track to success.
I took an 8 week, heavy equipment operator foundations course. It consisted of 4 weeks of class room learning, my instructors were operators themselves and taught us many valuable lessons. The classroom time also included equipment simulators which made the transition into the actual machines for the 4 week hands on portion, much smoother. We then spent 4 weeks practicing our skills and operating procedures, learning the controls and the basics of trenching, loading and shaping. By the end of the course, I knew my “home” was in the operators seat. This course also included WHMIS(workplace hazardous materials information system), traffic control, standard first aid and TDG(transportation of dangerous goods) and I have kept these tickets up to date ever since. In recent years I have upgraded my first aid ticket and have added site EMR (emergency medical responder) to my responsibilities. The rest of the learning is done on the job, and it never stops, so keep your eyes open wide and your mind open wider as you advance in your career.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE LOOK LIKE? DO YOU HAVE A ROUTINE OR DOES YOUR JOB LOOK DIFFERENT DAY TO DAY?
One of my favourite parts about the career I’ve chosen is the variety. I like to tell people “the world is my sandbox” and I mean it both literally and metaphorically. A typical day at work for me can look very different, and can involve several different pieces of equipment and different locations all in one day but does have strong elements of routine. I typically run excavators, dozers, loaders, and rock trucks. Each morning begins with a “tool box” meeting where we discuss the days plan, safety concerns and our foreman hands out our assignments. Next, I do my pre trip on the ambulance as our first aid attendant, then head to my piece of equipment. I complete a thorough pre trip inspection and document it, I complete a hazard inspection of my work area and document it. At this point, the day begins, I set up my work area, plan my pattern and work it strategically. I spend my days focusing on productivity, safety, and fluency. At the end of each shift, I tidy my work area as well as my cab to leave things in good order for the next operator. I then move my equipment to a safe and level area to park and cool the machine down before shut down.
WHERE ARE YOU LOCATED AND DO YOU TRAVEL FAR FOR WORK?
I am located in the Yukon, Canada. I spent 5 years living in the capital city of Whitehorse, where I did travel for work. I worked at a placer mine, and stayed in camp. We typically worked 30 day shifts with 12 hour days. To get there, we would drive roughly 5 hours, 3 of which were on dirt road, crossing creeks, driving beside 100 ft cliffs, and on some sketchy grades, but the scenery made it worth it every single time.
Now however, I am living in a small boom town in the Yukon. Faro. With a population of just over 400 people. It’s beautiful and I can take my ATV to the grocery store. Here, I am working a massive reclamation project and my commute is only a quick 17 minutes up the mountain on the back side of town. I do a camp rotation of 2 weeks on/weeks off for the most part, but do sometimes work an extra week. I drive to and from work daily which I love because I get to be home with my husband and cats in the evenings.
YOU SEEM TO HAVE THE BEST VIEW AT WORK! HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN ABLE TO WORK IN BEAUTIFUL SURROUNDINGS AND WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE LOCATION SO FAR?
I am a firm believer that all construction views are beautiful views! Whether it’s a untouched nature shot from the back side of my work area, or a close up of a a dirt ramp, every view is magical to me because it’s a glimpse of growth, change, and the impact I’m having on the earth. I will forever be grateful for every mountain range, lake, river, creek, sunrise, sunset and northern light show I’ve gotten to experience from the seat of my cab. I do have a favourite though, and it was the back side of Kluane Lake, Yukon, back in my gold mining days. I was working night shift and the sky lit up with northern lights, green, purples, pinks, even some yellow. The whole sky danced, and I got out of my cab and danced with it. It was a night I’ll never forget.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF BEING AN EQUIPMENT OPERATOR?
Honestly? The sheer amount of power. I have never felt more capable than I have from the seat of a machine. I can move mountains, dig tunnels, lift literally tons of weight. It’s incredible. You match this intense power with each machines unique ability and I swear you have an art form. Gaining the fluency and finesse it takes to use such a large, powerful machine to manipulate material within centimetres to match a final plan has been one of the most rewarding thing. I love the satisfaction of creating.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF EQUIPMENT TO OPERATE?
This is a hard one for me. I am most experienced in excavator, meaning my nerves never get the better of me, I understand job tasks quickly and easily and I can confidently say I am a productive excavator operator. Then there’s the dozer. I smiled as I wrote that last sentence. Running a dozer to me, is all excitement still. It’s complex, it takes planning and skills that are still new to me. It makes my heart beat faster and my face smile wider. So I think it’s settled, the Dozer, specifically a D10t, is my favourite machine to operate right now.
DO YOU WORK WITH OR KNOW OTHER FEMALE OPERATORS?
I do! I have been lucky to have many amazing female role models in my industry. The number of men on my crew seems to always be larger than the number of women and I will admit I get more call backs with the name “Sam” instead of “Samantha” on my resume, but, I personally have always had at least one other female on my crew. One of the first females I worked with in industry is, to this day my biggest inspiration. A women who worked her way up from the bottom, who showed up in industry demanding respect while I was still in diapers. She’s a paver, an operator, a driver, and a well known and respected name in the Yukon. She works so hard that companies call her, not the other way around. I will forever be trying to fill those shoes. With the company I am with now we have many females on site. I work with one other female operator whose fierce attitude and sheer talent knocks the boys out of the park.
We also have a large percentage of women driving/operating rock trucks. I work on a large site, made up of contractors and sub contractors and am happy to say I am seeing more and more women on the ground including female biologists, engineers, geoscientists and a heavy duty mechanic. I have always felt that I am in a male dominator industry, but my biggest hope for the upcoming generation of women, is that one day, that terminology will be null and void.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND YOUR PROFESSION TO OTHER WOMEN?
I will never tell you it will be easy. I will never tell you that all days will be good days. I will ask you if you’re willing to fight, because I promise you, you will have to. I will ask you if you’re strong, because some days that strength will be tested. But yes. Yes. And yes again. If a career in equipment makes your heart happy the way it does mine. It will ALWAYS be worth it. So lace up those boots and get going, I’ll be here cheering you on.
WHAT ARE SOME DIFFICULTIES YOU HAVE OVERCOME?
Ageism and sexism exist. These will be issues I continue to face, but will not be stumped by. Operating is an old industry and one of my biggest hurdles is moving forward within companies when I find management is supporting a dying generation, a generation that is ready to retire, before ever taking the steps necessary to ensure the success of the next generation. Industry needs good leadership and extensive training opportunities. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, good management is everything. I know my difficulties become easier to handle when I have a superintendent I respect and trust.
In my years in the field I have faced lack of respect due to my gender, my age, and my size. I have had inappropriate comments made to me, I have been dismissed as incapable because of my size and had to argue for the chance to try. So far, I’ve always proved myself capable even if it looks a little different “my way”. Recently, my least favourite phrase “you’re so young, you’ll have lots of time to reach your goals” as a lame excuse when they bring in a newly hired man to take my spot in a piece of equipment and move me back to truck. I won’t lie to you, there’s been days I’ve felt like giving up, but I didn’t and I won’t. Earning respect, can and will be an issue. Keeping the respect once it’s earned, will not be. I know I’m capable, talented, and deserving of right where I am, and I know that about you too.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE ANOTHER WOMAN WHO WOULD LIKE TO PURSUE A MALE DOMINATED PROFESSION?
1. Don’t give up. Seriously, no question is a dumb question, they’ll respect you more for asking than they will for apologizing for a mistake.
2. When you do make a mistake, OWN IT. that’s how we learn, that’s how we grow.
3. Do your homework. Take an interest. Learn your job, then take the time to learn the jobs that surround and support yours.
4. Don’t take sh*t. Being quiet gets you no where. Stand up for yourself.
5. If you don’t know if you can do something, try it.
6. And last but not least, pay attention to the oldest and grumpiest guys on your site, they’re who you want to learn from.
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR RECENTLY GETTING MARRIED! DOES YOUR HUSBAND WORK IN CONSTRUCTION AND SHARE YOUR LOVE FOR ADVENTURE AND OUTDOOR WORK?
Thank you so much! Our little elopement really was the highlight of this crazy year for me. My husband, Adam is also an equipment operator. We met working together as labourers at my first industry job. We moved to the Yukon together, I got hired at the gold mine as an excavator operator and he joined a week later when I found out they were still hiring. We worked together for 3.5 years and loved it. He’s taught me a lot over the years and has always been my biggest supporter. He is now a utilities operator working for the municipal government within our town and as just as passionate about it as I am.
All photos courtesy of Sam Inskip