“The most important thing is to do what you really want, to be focused and always keep learning”
Lily Núñez Letelier is the first female machinery operator at the Northern District Desalinated Water Supply Project (SADDN), in Chile. “My experience is a great option for anyone who didn’t go to college, but can take a course and learn a trade.”
As a young woman, Lily Núñez diligently trained to be a Social Worker in Antofagasta, like her mother, because she thought that was her calling. However, as time went on, she started to realize that this profession was not as fulfilling as she’d thought, so she dropped out of her study course. She was unemployed, with her son still under two, when her husband signed her up for a heavy machinery course at the Industrial and Mining Training Center (CEIM, in Spanish). Her first reaction was surprise followed by laughter, as doing something like that had never occurred to her. However, she plucked up the courage to take that first step. “It was something I’d never really thought about, but since I ended up being selected, I went to see what it all was about. As the classes progressed, to my surprise, I realized that I really enjoyed it. I worked hard and did as much as I could. After the theory part, came practice, and when I went out into the field, the penny dropped—I understood that this was my thing! So I took the intensive course that came with a driver's license. And I also learned a lot about mechanics,” she highlights.
Sporting the Techint E&C colors
A native of Tocopilla, Lily joined Techint Engineering & Construction in August 2023, when the company ran a recruitment drive in the area. At the local job fair held in her town’s main square, Techint E&C had a stand where they showcased the project and explained its personnel requirements. But Lily ended up not going to the fair as she had an activity planned with her son. However, she found out how to apply for a job online, and that's how she secured an interview.
“I had to take several online courses, some exams and occupational tests, and everything went well. Finally, I presented myself to certify and was selected to start working. I was super nervous, as although I already had five years’ experience, having finished my heavy machinery course in 2019, followed by three years working at a photovoltaic plant and then a stint at the port of Tocopilla, I’d never worked at a desalination plant. I learned everything from scratch, and so far my experience has been excellent, thanks to the support of my colleagues who have been in the company for many years. They helped me to integrate, and were incredibly respectful. I’m the only woman in my area; although there are three other women vehicle drivers in the company, there are none where I’m working. But it’s fair to say that I’ve never felt I was treated differently because I’m a woman,” she says.
Turn up the radio: always ready on channel 2
At the moment, Lily Núñez Letelier is operating the backhoe at the SADDN project: she’s always ready with her radio hanging off her belt, listening out for a request to solve a problem at a moment’s notice.
“I dig trenches with the backhoe, make posts for parking lots, level land, fill ditches and shore up retaining walls, among other things. I do everything on the radio, people can always find me on channel 2 and tell me what they need. After a request is made, I and my machine are escorted to the location where I need to perform whatever operation is required, as safety is super important. All heavy machines move around with an escort, respecting very specific traffic rules to avoid accidents,” she explains.
Mother, wife, worker, woman...
“Society still has a hard time understanding lots of gender-related issues and embracing all the roles that women have,” shares Lily. It’s never been easy for her, as she’s always had to make a special effort to keep that delicate balance between her working schedule and the time dedicated to caring for her family. The support of her family has been essential.
“I always get a goodbye kiss with good wishes to speed me on my way, and that’s been crucial. From the beginning, my husband and my mother encouraged me and helped me a lot with childcare. In fact, my whole family has supported me; my uncle with his advice, because he’s also in the machinery industry, and my grandfather, who’s incredibly proud of his granddaughter, the heavy machinery operator, because he’s a huge fan of cars and trucks. I couldn’t have done it without all this support, it’s been so encouraging to know that everybody’s efforts have been for my son, so that he can have a better future,” she says proudly.
Learning to continue growing
Despite all the sacrifices she’s had to make, Lily is very grateful and delighted to have been able to learn so much on her professional journey. She has no qualms about encouraging other women who are in a similar situation and want to recover their professional lives after becoming mothers, to aim high. “They should go for gold, to hold out for what they really want to do, something good for their professional and personal growth. Today, I work with people from different regions of Chile, as well as Mexicans, Argentines and Brazilians, and it’s really enriching. My experience is that this is a good option for those people who were unable to pursue a university degree, but who can take a course and learn a trade. In the future, I’d like to work in a large mining company, so that I can operate other kinds of heavy machinery, such as high-tonnage trucks. To do that, I’ve got to carry on and continue studying and learning. I’m always going for more!”, she says.
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