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November 26, 2022

Thriving among the giants

APTOS—Sitting in the cab of a 25-ton Caterpillar excavator, Stephanie Siqueiros works the levers of the dinosaur-like beast to swivel the mechanical arm to reach across the pavement and attach a large scoop bucket. Nimbly, she attaches the bucket, its steel teeth facing skyward, with ease and confidence.

“I love the challenge; I love this job,” she said. “The pay is good, the benefits are good and it’s definitely an adventure.”

For the past several weeks Siqueiros has been working as an operator on an underground water line project in Aptos with an otherwise all-male crew from Garney Construction of Tracy.

Born in Watsonville, Siqueiros said she is now the fourth generation in her family as a heavy equipment operator following the footsteps of her dad, her mom’s dad and her mom’s grandfather.

“I was going to be a nurse; then the pandemic hit,” she said. “So I tried this line of work and I loved it right away. I was the kind of student that was always looking out the window at school; I was daydreaming. So I’ve found that being outdoors, being in the field is where I belong.”

Just over a year ago Siqueiros, 24, completed a six-week training course to become an operator. She is now in the third step of a five-step application to be certified to operate heavy industrial equipment.

“When I saw my dad working on the ranch, it caught my attention and I always thought that I’d like to try that someday,” she said.

Although Siqueiros’ journey into the construction industry follows her family’s lineage in the trade, her career choice is anything but ordinary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up only 11% of the construction industry. But there is good news: that number is a slight increase from just a handful of years ago. In addition, a 2020 study found that construction was the fifth fastest-growing occupation for women—it saw a roughly 50% jump from 2015-2019.

Thus far Siqueiros has been training in operating the excavator, a backhoe and in grade setting, which involves making sure underground pipes are set at the proper depth. 

“I really can’t say enough about my mentor here at Garney, Dave Stickney,” Siqueiros said. “Not only has he been patient, he has taken extra time to not only teach me how to be an operator—but also how to handle this environment; you have to be tough because there are folks out there that will walk all over you. My dad was the same way.”

Stickney said Siqueiros is a good listener.

“She takes my advice and she applies our wisdom every day with her job,” he said.

Siqueiros said her friends are excited to learn of her career choice and offer their support in her choice of direction.

As far as the tough part of her job, Siqueiros swiftly answered: “Having to be aware of my surroundings. It’s an intense job where you are always thinking four steps ahead.”

Siqueiros also gave credit to Nick Hansen, assistant project manager at Garney.

“I’ve learned that I am surrounded by good men who want to see me do well,” she said. “For me, my mentors have given me that opportunity. Being the only woman on an all-male crew is not as bad as some people might think. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of good guys teach me and look out for me.”

Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.

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