Laisa Pickering-Bryant is a Distribution Line Mechanic. She holds Glove and Barrier Live Work up to 33kV qualifications and Hot Stick Live Work up to 66kV qualifications. Laisa is the first female Distribution Line Mechanic at her company to work and train in live high voltage line. She was born and raised on the Fiji Islands and currently resides in Auckland, New Zealand.

Can you tell us a little bit about what it is that you do?

I am a Distribution Line Mechanic who also holds Glove and Barrier Live Work up to 33kV qualifications and Hot Stick Live Work up to 66kV qualifications. I am the first female Distribution Line Mechanic in my company to work and train in live high voltage line. To get into this elite group of Line Mechanic, one has to have at least 5 years experience carrying out Line work, demonstrate a high standard for safety and be chosen to get trained after passing vigorous medical exams for health and fitness. Because Live Line teams are made up of highly trained and experienced individuals, the tasks we are given can vary from installing a gas switch live to replacing a burnt out service pillar. Because the network I work on covers an area that services urban and rural communities with overhead and underground network and equipment, we get to do a variety of jobs which helps keep your knowledge base fresh.

Did you ever expect to be doing this as a career?

Never in a million years while I was growing up. I grew up in Fiji and was educated in a school that had a very good, in fact one of the highest pass rates in the country but back then, they also did not see the value in females taking classes in Woodwork and Technical Drawing which were subjects I really enjoyed and excelled in. I got to do a lot of woodwork at home with my granddad building little shelves and repairing things around the house and used to score the high points in TD exams when I did basic Technical Drawing as a junior in high school. As you got older, TD and Woodwork was restricted to the boys only. The girls did Home Economics and Sewing classes which I did love as I loved cooking and sewing with my nan. My grandmother sewed almost everyday so it was a way for me to connect with her. My sewing classes came in handy when we went into our first lockdown and the company asked for volunteers to sew masks for the field staff attending faults and working through. My first job after leaving school was as an apprentice Joiner making custom made furniture for clients. I moved to New Zealand as a few years later and worked in the civil construction industry for a good 12 years operating dump trucks, diggers, rollers, bulldozers and other heavy earthmoving machinery building subdivisions, roads etc. It was in this trade that I came across Line Mechanics and interacted with a few of them laying power cables in the service trenches I would dig for them. They encouraged me to apply for a trainee vacancy and took my CV in to their HR office for me. That was in 2012, I missed out on that year’s intake as applications had closed but applied again the following year and got in.

  • What keeps you motivated day to day?

Making my family proud. Being the best return for the people who have invested their time in me. My sense of loyalty and responsibility to my team and making sure we all get to go home safe and well to our families. In these present times, just being able to go to work is motivation and a blessing. A lot of people have lost their jobs and are struggling to provide for themselves due to the pandemic. Knowing that the work that I do is essential and adds value to my community.

  • Laisa, you do a lot of work to support women in trades. Can you tell us about that?

My passion for support women in trades I guess comes from my background. I had my teachers say, “No you can’t do that – because you are a girl!” but the most important voice I had at home was my granddad who used to say, “Yes, you can be whatever you want to be, don’t let being a girl restrict the way you think.”. I have 4 sisters and 1 brother, we were raised by my mum who was a single mother with the help of her parents. My mum worked long hours as a server in restaurants and my grandparents did an amazing job keeping all 6 of us in check, fed, bathed and watered. So for me, to be that voice for someone else is extremely important.

Currently I am an ambassador for Women in Infrastructure for Connexis who is the training organisation that looks after training for the Infrastructure and Utilities industries. I am also a volunteer role model for the “Inspiring the Future” programme which is Tertiary Education Commission initiative to help broaden the career aspirations of young people and to challenge bias. The programme connects primary (6 to 12yrs) and intermediate (12 to 14yrs) school students with role models from the world of work in a fun and inspiring even that broadens the students horizons about future work possibilities. The role models talk about their jobs, the career path they took, any challenges they faced and the skills they have developed. Inspiring the Future I also attend high school careers expos with the team from Connexis promoting trade careers as a viable career path for the students, sharing my experiences with them and helping them get the information they need to start them on their way into an apprenticeship or technical job.

I also organise for myself and a small team of volunteers or trainees to attend festivals where we set up a mini careers expo promoting Line work and trades especially to our Pasifika communities. We also attend the Women in Trades careers event which is designed solely for getting women into trades targeting school leaving aged girls and women. It is organised by Women In Trades NZ  and has over the years grown into a large event. A few years ago, I organised for myself to attend this event alone. A work colleague who works as a planner heard what I was doing and volunteered to attend the evening with me. She really enjoyed the experience and since then, the company I work for have been very supportive and is now a partner and sponsor for this event with a lot more volunteers from the business, including my friend the planner 😊 who are just as passionate as I am about promoting trades to women. The event has been postponed 2 years in a row due to the pandemic but we are looking forward to attending this years event when it is announced and if it does go ahead. The company I work for started a Female Mentoring programme which I was a part of as a mentor supporting a female trainee from our gas department. It was an awesome and encouraging experience for me.

After the first lockdown in NZ, statistics NZ took stock of the number of people who lost their jobs. Most of them were women numbering around 22,000 due to Covid19. Trade Careers NZ was then put together to pioneer Insights Research that revealed the barriers New Zealand women face when entering the building, construction and infrastructure industries. This solutions-focused report was commissioned in April 2021 to better understand the employment situation of the 22,000 New Zealand women who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and come up with solutions to help them get into trades. I was humbled to be part of the advisory panel and am so proud of the contributions made by all.

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