Meet a Woman of Asphalt: SECON’s Vickie Brown
BY Sandy Lender
Vickie Brown joined the asphalt industry in 2005 working as a general laborer and all-around team player for South East Alaska Construction (SECON), a member of the Colas USA family, Anchorage, Alaska. She explained that her original job responsibilities included “holding a sign, water truck, sweeper, loader operator, laborer, parts runner, whatever the crew needed.”
What she found most rewarding about those early days was watching the progress and completion of projects. Sixteen years later, Brown is a breakdown roller for the company and said the extensive apprenticeship program at the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) helped prepare her for her career in the construction industry. This past summer, she took some time to share her experiences and advice with other women of asphalt.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers your career trajectory since high school and what challenges you’ve overcome along the way?
Vickie Brown: Before landing at SECON, it looked like a monkey’s rendition of a Picasso. There are always challenges and roadblocks. You just have to keep moving forward. I commercial fished (trolling, longlining, crabbing) for quite a few years, then delivered flowers and mail for the United States Postal Service. Worked for local city government maintaining ball fields and plowing snow, with many other side jobs in between. Landscaping. Slime line. Been in a lot of positions. The biggest challenge has always been looking for a bigger paycheck while still enjoying the work required to earn it.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers what your job as the breakdown roller operator for SECON requires of you for the asphalt team?
Vickie Brown: I would say flexibility. You have to be observant and on your toes. Whatever speed the paver is moving you have to match it. Generally, there are between six and ten guys slinging asphalt and one little ol’ me scrambling to seal it all up. A finish roller hand is usually just wiping out lines left by the breakdown roller and making sure the job looks clean and smooth after all is said and done. On bigger jobs they help bring up numbers (densities) and help with laydown and cleanup. I was a finish roller hand for many years before moving to breakdown.
AsphaltPro: Why did you become a roller operator? What about that position is “most cool” to you?
Vickie Brown: I ended up rolling because I was an apprentice and that is what I was told to do. That is where they needed me at that moment. That moment turned into an eternity. I remember the first time they put me on a finish roller to ride and observe with the finish roller operator. I was sitting there taking it all in and thinking to myself WHO makes a career out of rolling asphalt?
(Brown has since eaten those words and found the job of rolling asphalt to be powerful.) Driving away at the end of a job and knowing what a beautiful job you just did for someone. Actually, the coolest aspect is that you have a bird’s eye view of everything and everyone…nothing escapes my eagle eye.
AsphaltPro: What do you think is the most important skill you’ve brought to your position as a lead roller operator in the asphalt industry?
Vickie Brown: There is never just one skill. You have to use all the tools in your belt at one point or another. Being a very observant person helps tremendously in this line of work. Being able to anticipate each crew member’s next move is key. You can’t just keep your head down and worry about your own duties. You have to keep your head on a swivel and never forget this is all about the team, not “me.”
AsphaltPro: What would you say was the most challenging “obstacle” you, as a female on the asphalt crew, had to overcome in the past 15+ years, and how did you overcome that obstacle?
Vickie Brown: Probably learning to give up my “own time.” The asphalt industry can be very sporadic. Some days you might work eight hours, other days 18 or more. When our season is in full swing you pretty much write off any extracurricular activities. It took a few years before I resigned to that fact, you just have to find the good in it. Think of that paycheck.
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?”
Vickie Brown: Sure, it’s dirty, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of things you can do to mitigate the “dirtiness” of the job. Water is your friend and slowing down, taking care as you move along. Not slinging asphalt everywhere or dumping too much material because you’re in a hurry. Most people these days have access to showers and contrary to popular belief, skin is impervious to dirt and water.
AsphaltPro: What do you think is an incorrect perception that we, as an industry, can re-educate young people about to encourage more women to consider a career in the asphalt business?
Vickie Brown: Women make great pavers! Most times (not always) they are much more clean, tidy and meticulous than our counterparts. I would say if you want to make good money while doing something you can be proud of at the end of the day—this is it.
AsphaltPro: What is the most challenging aspect for you of being in the asphalt business?
Vickie Brown: The most challenging thing is the revolving door. Over the years I have worked with dozens and dozens of people, probably close to a couple hundred. It’s hard to get in a good groove with people you haven’t worked with before. Especially the ones who think they have nothing left to learn. We can always learn more. We are all teachers and students at the same time. Some stay for a few years, others just weeks or days. You just have to get up and be thankful for another opportunity to go to work.
AsphaltPro: Will you tell us about a person who served as a mentor for you?
Vickie Brown: Rick Kirby, AKA Yogi. He was my rolling partner for 11 years. I rolled behind him, stuck with him, listened and learned. In my humble opinion he is one of the best. He encouraged me because he cared. Some people don’t care about the end result. He said I was the last one he would ever train…He is my hero. I miss him.