Timberbiz Feature of the Week Article supplied by Timber News
Elise cuts into the record books THE WORLD of chainsaw operation is a testosterone-rich atmosphere. It is filled by broad-chested males with bulging biceps and rippling forearms. After all, it takes a real man to handle a 6-10kg mass capable of producing between 4kW and 6kW.
Thus it is something of a surprise when your chainsaw instructor in the Queensland country town of Childers lifts ‘his’ protective visor for the first time to reveal a surprising lack of stubble and a confusing array of attractive long fair locks.
Yes ‘he’ is a ‘she’.
Elise Cottam; Mrs Elise Cottam, to be precise.
At this stage Elise is the only – and maybe the first – female Nationally Accredited Chainsaw Trainer Assessor, and proud of it. Elise has been researching this for four years now, recently attending the ATTA workshop, that was amazing for Elise, and she said it was such a relief to be finally accepted as a trainer. [Elise has inquired with trainers and companies all over Australia but to no avail; in years of experience the people she has spoken to adds up to about 900 years.]
While it would be unchivalrous to mention a lady’s age, suffice it to say Elise is in her thirties and a mother of three girls and a boy. She grew up in the Blue Mountains a couple of hours west of Sydney. Elise admits she was a bit of a ‘tomboy’; the eldest sibling of three younger brothers. Like lots of girls, Elise had a thing about her dad and loved to go to work with the ‘spec’ builder.
‘I used to work alongside his labourers,’ she says, ‘In fact I used to outwork them!’
Some unkind people might use the word ‘tomboy’ as a euphemism for something closer to ‘butch’. Well, not in Elise’s case. She later met, married and began a family with husband John Cottam before moving north to the warmer climes of Queensland.
Childers is roughly three hours north of Brisbane on the Bruce Highway. The shire has a population of 6500 and town itself about 1300. It is roughly half way between Maryborough and Bundaberg. An area of mango and avocado orchards, the region also produces sugar, tomatoes and Queensland’s famed macadamia nuts.
In towns like Childers you have to be able to multi-task – Elise Cottam certainly does. Amongst her activities Elise Cottam doubles as a photographer for the local newspaper (winning awards) and works for the local State Emergency Services (SES). She has also been a florist and a finance broker.
Elise’s training activities began with First Aid. These days she is Training Manager for the Childers SES, where her work encompasses all areas of SES training both in the shire and elsewhere in the region. Amongst her skills she trains security personal, bodyguards, crowd controllers and drug testers. But her favourite program covers chainsaw operation.
‘I love it!’ she says, ‘I am so passionate about teaching men and women how to use a chainsaw safely.’
Elise (AKA Liseyc) acquired her own chainsaw qualification from Bob Collins Enterprise (BCE) via Fitec in Brisbane. Elise encountered him two years ago when Bob was training Queensland Rural Fire Brigades in chainsaw operation.
‘I enjoyed it so much and could see there was a huge need in our area, so I asked Bob if it would be possible for me to work with him.’
Bob could clearly see that she had potential, but he was unsure if people would accept chainsaw training from a female – and a young female at that!
‘Bob could command respect because of his 50-years experience. But I was female and without any grey hairs!’ Elise says.
Were their fears well-founded?
‘Surprisingly, there hasn’t been any reflection of that attitude so far in the industry,’ Elise says. She believes that she has been helped by her years spent training other proficiencies and by her upbringing, which taught her from an early age that gender makes no difference.
‘I have had to stand my ground on occasion,’ she acknowledges, ‘But I have found that the most important thing is to be able to back up what you are saying with what you can and do.’
Chainsaw Trainer Assessor
Elise has run her own training firm, Elise Cottam Rural Training (E.C.R.T), since 2007. Not bad for a kid who only finished Year 9 at school! Most of her students require their accreditation for vocational purposes.
‘Most of them know how to use a chainsaw – but not safely,’ she observes. ‘By the time they come to me they have acquired a lot of bad habits, which can take a while to ‘unlearn’.’
Elise enjoys showing her students the proper way, the safe way, to operate a chainsaw.
‘Some are just so funny once they learn the correct technique. They say things like: ‘Holy Cow! Now I get it!’ The fact is: a chainsaw is a very valuable device – but it also can be very dangerous; even fatal, if used wrongly,’ she says.
As an experienced trainer Elise teaches people from all walks of life. She believes that people learn best when they are having fun although they also must recognise when it is appropriate to be serious.
‘A good instructor can recognise a learning difficulty or a learning barrier quickly,’ she says, especially with older trainees. She then ensures that these people do not feel demeaned but quietly endeavours to provide them with the personalised attention needed to overcome their problems.
After this time, does she still face chauvinism?
‘I still come across some negative souls who say, ‘women shouldn’t do this’, but by the end of day they see it another way,’ she says. ‘I’m used to that. The thing that I find most frustrating is when girls – and guys – say ‘I carnt’. ‘Carnt’ is not a word!’
Interestingly Elise has found that she is training an increasing number of women in correct chainsaw operation.
‘It’s a slight increase – but it’s definitely there,’ she says. Over the last two years she has seen the proportion of females jump from about 3% of enrolments to nearly 20%.
‘Operating a chainsaw isn’t for everyone. But the decision should not be based purely on gender. The fact is a properly trained woman can be every bit as good – and safe – an operator as any man.’
Husqvarna is willing to do a pink chainsaw – which will lead to supporting the Breast Cancer Foundation – in recognition of Elise being the first and only qualified female chainsaw instructor. The question for our readers is … Are there any other qualified female chainsaw instructors in Australia, or is Elise unique?
February 13th 2015