A Woman of Asphalt: Meet Pike’s Teri Wells
BY Sandy Lender
Sometimes the asphalt life requires work on projects that are far from home for weeks—or even months—at a time. Roller Operator Teri Wells began her asphalt career April 2003 when looking for a change in her work life, and now shares how to make different aspects of the career work for a woman of asphalt.
AsphaltPro: What year did you join Pike Industries and what was your first job with the company?
Teri Wells: I started working for Pike Industries Inc., a CRH Co., in 2003. Pike was the first and only construction company I have worked for since I joined the asphalt industry. I started with Pike as a traffic controller, and I performed that job for six months. The company was in need of a roller operator at that time and they asked me if I wanted to try that career path. I did and I have been a roller operator since then and I love what I do.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers your career trajectory and what challenges you’ve overcome along the way?
Teri Wells: I do not have a degree that relates to the industry. I have been a nurse since I was 19 years old. Since I joined the asphalt industry, I learned everything by doing it day by day. It is that “learn as you go” kind of thing.
I became a mother when I was 15 years old and had two kids by 16. I dropped out of school and then returned to it while having my mom’s support. After high school, I went to nursing school with two babies.
Then, in 2003, I decided to change my work life and I joined the construction industry. It was not easy to align two jobs with kids but I did it and I like it because I do not get too much of either one. It is a nice balance. I do work six to seven days a week so I do not have much social time. I remember when I was away from home for three months to perform one of our paving projects back in 2016. It was not easy. It was very hard on family life, but I can say that I did overcome these challenges and I am proud to be resilient.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers what your job as a roller operator for Pike Industries requires of you for the asphalt team?
Teri Wells: I perform different duties during my workday as a roller operator. I determine speed and direction of the roller based on knowledge of compressibility of material under changing temperatures.
Roller operators may oil, grease, service and make normal operating adjustments to their roller. I am always communicating with my paving crew and foreman on job density requirements. We monitor rolling temperature and work within temperature best suited for material being laid. My asphalt team is always communicating on any flaws in material or finished mat. I also work with my paving crew with hand rolling, plate compactor work, manholes and catch basins. I help trim edge lines and pickup excess asphalt material. Roller operators should have a thorough understanding of material thickness, type of material being laid and material temperature for determining rolling range. We definitely need to have the ability to work in a team setting.
AsphaltPro: What would you say was the most challenging “obstacle” you, as a female on the asphalt team, had to overcome in the past 18 years, and how did you overcome it?
Teri Wells: In the beginning of my career in construction, I did hear people saying, “You are too tiny for this big piece of equipment. You are a small girl, are you sure you will be okay operating this roller?” People thought that I could not do it, for many reasons. I overcame their perspectives by trusting my judgement, skills and performing the best that I could. I am not a person that will complain, so I would just hear the comment and prove them wrong.
I think that other women in the industry should trust their skills and understand that they are capable of anything regardless of the comments they may hear. If you want to be a roller operator, you can be a roller operator. You need to know what is expected of you. You need to be aware of materials that you can and cannot roll, and what you should or should not do at the jobsite. You do need to be aware of safety practices so your roller does not flip and always be aware of your surroundings. Any woman is capable to go above and beyond in this industry; they should just try it as I did.
AsphaltPro: Could you tell us about some changes you’ve seen take place in the asphalt crew “culture” in the past couple of years?
Teri Wells: From my perspective, my crewmates at Pike have always been accepting of women in the crew. Currently, we have two other women working on the same crew as I do. They definitely consider us as equals. The women on my crew work just as hard as the men, and they see that. In the past, people that did not know me in the company would say, “Does she know what she is doing?” After working with me and getting to know who I am, they would realize that I know what I am doing. Overall, I can say that I have never had an issue because I am a woman.
AsphaltPro: What do you think is the most important skill you’ve brought to your position as a roller operator in the asphalt industry?
Teri Wells: Caring about quality. Even though I do not have an education that relates to the construction industry, being a nurse has helped me in so many ways in my position as a roller operator in the asphalt industry. The skills of critical thinking, communication and problem solving are key to my position. I also think that being confident and patient is something that I brought on board that is beneficial to my crewmates and me.
I am an example of someone with a different background that joined the construction industry with no prior knowledge, but worked hard and learned the industry’s skills on the job. The women should be confident and trust that they are capable of doing anything in this industry even if they come from a different background. Women should not let other people tell them that they cannot do something, because they can, she can, and they need trust the process.
AsphaltPro: Why did you become a roller operator? What about rolling is “most cool” to you?
Teri Wells: I became a roller operator because I was at the right place at the right time. I am happy being a roller operator, and I do not mind doing other job duties, but I do think I am good at it. I love when we get hard projects that can be challenging for a roller operator. For example, roundabout and driveway. I challenge myself daily to see how few lines I can leave on the mat. I love when I complete the project that looks and feels perfect.
AsphaltPro: What is the most challenging project you’ve been a part of and how did you and the asphalt crew overcome the challenge?
Teri Wells: A couple years ago, we were performing a night work in Concord, New Hampshire. The project was challenging because it was at night, cold and we were doing ramps. The asphalt dries out quickly on an angle, so our crew needed to communicate effectively and quickly in order to complete the job smoothly and safely. We did think outside the box to complete the project. Communication, attention and teamwork was important for the completion of this project.
AsphaltPro: It’s a fact that asphalt paving can be hot and dusty. How do you respond to people who say it’s a “dirty job?”
Teri Wells: I cannot deny that asphalt paving is hot, dusty and a dirty job; however, there is nothing more rewarding than turning a junk road into a smooth road. It is a fulfilling job because the asphalt industry is an essential component to business, leisure and everyday life.
An incorrect perception that we have, as an industry, is that women are not qualified to perform labor or trade jobs. As a human being, you can do anything you want to do. The women should not feel discouraged just because the asphalt/construction industry is a male dominant field. More women need to get into this industry. It is good and honest work. You learn unique skills and you get to see a lot more than four walls every day.
AsphaltPro: What is the most rewarding aspect for you, personally, of being in the asphalt business?
Teri Wells: I feel that the most rewarding aspect of being in the asphalt business is that you will leave a lasting impression around the community, and you can take pride in creating something that the community depends upon. I feel great knowing that I am contributing to the infrastructure and framework that so many people depend upon each day. Additionally, paving is a team effort, and my crewmates are awesome. Everyone knows what he or she is supposed to do and we are very close because we spend so much time together. I love all these aspects of my job.