WOMEN IN TRANSPORT – From the grime to the glory

13 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJanuary 7, 2019

New Zealand‘s top Hino technician, Heidi Inkster, showed just how good she was when she came up against one of Hino Australia‘s champions in a head-to-head technical challenge last August.

Photo: A job that might be grimy at times but Heidi loves it, and wouldn‘t hesitate in recommending the technician‘s world.

Held at Hino Australia‘s Training Centre in Sydney, Australia, the first ever Hino Trans Tasman Technical Challenge was part of Hino Australia‘s 2018 National Skills Contest programme. The challenge saw Heidi, who won the inaugural New Zealand Hino Skills Competition, and Hino Australia‘s winner Asa Pearson, compete against each other simultaneously, and against the clock, with just 30 minutes to find four faults on the new GH1A wide cab Hino. Each fault had a time limit, which once lapsed, was closed, forcing the competitors to move on to the next fault. Heidi and Asa were so evenly matched that the competition ended in a draw – something Heidi had not been expecting. “No, not at all. We drew, and they dragged it out like an American Idol episode! They had us standing on stage while they went through everything, and then they said, ‘Asa Pearson, out of a possible 27 points, scored 14 points … and Heidi Inkster … also scored 14 points‘. I was stoked, because that meant we both got to go to the car racing on the Gold Coast as our prize.”
Heidi was initially to compete against 2017‘s Australian winner but as he was unavailable, Asa, the 2016 winner, was called in.

“I‘m not sure how long Asa has been working there but he is obviously good at what he does, and experienced. The Australians have a lot more experience with the new model Hino; they have a lot more of them and they‘ve had them for longer so they‘re more familiar with them. In New Zealand we had one and it was brand new; we‘ve never actually had to pull it apart.” During the final in Australia Heidi and Asa wore Go Pro cameras and had to compete in front of a crowd. “I was familiar with the truck because I‘d read a lot about it and I knew how a lot of the systems worked, but I‘d never had to actually pull one apart in a hurry, so that was new. “We had a lot shorter timeframe too, only half an hour, and there were four faults on the truck. You had five minutes for the first and if you hadn‘t sorted it out within the five minutes you had to move on to the next fault. So it was incredibly fast paced, and there was no time to really think about anything. It was very, very stressful.”

Photo: The modern workshop is about systematic processes to eliminate the fault. There‘s too much information nowadays to retain all that‘s needed.

Heidi had qualified for the Trans Tasman Challenge by winning the New Zealand Hino Skills Competition earlier in August. A total of 28 Hino technicians signed up for the competition, and Heidi was the only female. “I guess I didn‘t really think about that,” she laughs. “I was just determined from the start to do my best and it kind of panned out really well I guess.” The first part of the competition involved four online modules, each with 20 questions. “You had about two weeks to find all the answers,” said Heidi. “But it was quite complicated stuff; you had to pore through work manuals to find all the answers.” Heidi was number one in the modules and competed against Chito Dimaculangan from Truck Stops Mt Wellington in a practical test in the final. Both were given two hours to find and fix three faults on the GH1A. “The first fault was an AdBlue system fault, so you had to go on the laptop, look up the fault, then find the process for fixing the fault in the work manual. And once you‘ve done that fault you are on to the next one,” said Heidi. “The second fault was an ABS fault, and then for the third they had a test engine on a stand and we had to do a top tune on that.” Heidi says Chito is a bit of a Hino guru – he told her he looks at wiring diagrams for fun.

“We went out the night before the competition and when I was talking to him he was going on about all these weird wiring faults he‘s come across. I was thinking, ‘I‘m done for, this guy‘s got it!‘ But I don‘t know, I somehow managed to fluke it.” Heidi joined Truck Stops in Wellington in May 2013 and completed her apprenticeship in March 2016. “I didn‘t come from a trucking background or have any connections to the industry, I just wanted to do something new,” she said. “My car broke down and I was like, ‘it would be good to be able to fix this myself ‘. Then I got into diesel because I found out it paid more!” Heidi said she hasn‘t experienced any discrimination being a female in a male dominated industry. “I haven‘t had any harassment or anything. When I first started I was rubbish – just like all apprentices are when they start. So there may have been a little bit of hesitation, but I don‘t think it was because I was a female, it was because I was a crappy apprentice who didn‘t know anything!” Truck Stops Wellington branch manager Chris Groves said everyone was thrilled when Heidi won the New Zealand Hino Skills Competition, especially when she topped that with a draw against Australia‘s best in the Trans Tasman Challenge. “I have been here just on two years and I am very proud of where Heidi has got in the short time I‘ve been here,” said Chris. “Right at the very beginning she had a great attitude, and once she got on board with it she was very passionate about it.

Photo: Heidi competing in the Trans Tasman challenge, head camera in place. The pressure was intense.

“I thought she had a good chance in the Trans Tasman Challenge and it ended in a draw. Her results have inspired the other technicians here to enter the competition – I‘ve already had four come to me saying they want to do it next year.” Chris confides that in the middle of all her competing, Heidi was also planning her own wedding – now that‘s multitasking! Heidi holds a class 5 DG driver‘s licence, saying it comes in handy when a truck needs to be taken for a test drive or vehicles need collecting for servicing. She also has her Certificate of Fitness ticket. There are many things about her job that Heidi enjoys, particularly the variety, saying that she‘ll be out driving one minute and fixing a complicated electrical fault the next. “It‘s good, I really like the variety of it. Fixing a fault is all about the processes. They want you to follow the process – they don‘t expect you to know everything, they know it‘s not possible – but they want you to follow the processes. If it‘s an electrical fault, you connect up the laptop, you see what the fault is, you check basic things like battery voltage, and then you move on to the diagnostic flow process and just follow that. But sometimes you still have to call the guys on the help desk and go ‘umm… I‘m not really sure about this‘.”

Heidi said part of her motivation for entering the competition was so she could one day move into training. “I know one of Sime Darby or Truck Stops trainers did a similar thing with the Volvo Vista competition. He got himself recognised by doing well at that and moved into training from there, so I‘m trying to mirror that, only using Hino.” In her limited spare time Heidi enjoys mountain biking, running and cooking – she is a vegan – and said she harbours a yearning to visit Antarctica. “No one ever goes there, so that‘s why I want to go. Plus you kind of have to sort stuff out by yourself because there is no one who can come and help you – it‘s like the ultimate call out.” When asked what advice she would give to women considering a career in the transport industry in a role like hers, she said to just go for it. “It‘s not as bad as you think!” she laughs. “I think a lot of women wouldn‘t get into it just because it‘s a dirty, grimy job – and it is, it‘s the filthiest job in the country – but I love it. If you don‘t want to get your fingernails dirty then it‘s not for you, but it‘s a lot of fun.” Heidi heads to Hino Japan to attend an awards ceremony in May 2019.