Meet Rowena Kilbourne - Refining the Art of Welding

Rowena Kilbourne apprenticeship Ballarat semi trailer manufacturing

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Studying for an Arts degree, this woman’s dream was to sculpt steel into works of art. Today she welds the great trailers that carry the needs of a nation.

Rowena Kilbourne is close to finishing a welding apprenticeship with MaxiTRANS at the company’s Ballarat manufacturing facility. There is no doubt she loves her work, forging molten metal to her will, connecting, joining, finishing the main rails that, in their lifetime, will carry a million tonnes of freight on Australian highways.

Her career began when she enrolled in a TAFE course for welding to further the creative side of her arts degree. With her husband, Nathan, the couple learned the craft and process of welding. A Cert II qualification opened the door to employment with MaxiTRANS for the couple.

And to keep life interesting, partway through her apprenticeship, Rowena fell pregnant and today she is a proud mother of Colt, her 19-month-old son. She is on the cusp of completion of her apprenticeship after seven years with MaxiTRANS.

As a welder, Rowena works mostly on the main chassis rails for MaxiTRANS trailer brands, Freighter and Maxi-CUBE. These foundations of a trailer’s long life are fabricated from flat plate steel and are processed through an automated welder. They are then inspected and finished off by the welding team.

Rowena Kilbourne apprentice welding at MaxiTRANS Ballarat

Rowena works on the wide spectrum of trailers that are built at the Ballarat plant: Semi-trailers, T-Liners, Vans for refrigerated and dry goods logistics, as well as roll-back lead trailers.

“We also fabricate the main rails for our Hamelex White tipper products produced at our Ballarat site, whether they go through the automatic welder or if they are off-set. For off-set tipper rails we have a jig we use to tac-weld them, before they are fully welded down the line.”

When she fell pregnant, Rowena says MaxiTRANS supported her through 18 weeks of maternity leave and the opportunity to extend the leave for a further 12 months.

Rowena took 10 months of the leave and returned to work.

“They were happy to have me when I was ready. They never pushed or anything, which was really nice.”

Balancing motherhood and work is definitely a learning challenge, Rowena says, finding a balance can be difficult.

Rowena Kilbourne MaxiTRANS and young son with welding helmet

“But it’s something I enjoy,” she says, “having time to watch Colt grow on my off-days is really good. It’s all working out well so far.”

Working three days a week at present, Rowena has trade school on Friday, so the flexibility of shifts afforded by MaxiTRANS works for her.

“I only have two units to complete. I’m pretty close to finishing and that’s really exciting.”

Rowena’s husband Nathan worked for some years with MaxiTRANS and he then completed a Cert 4 Training and Assessment course and now teaches welding at the Federation University TAFE in Ballarat.

Rowena says the workplace culture is great and continues to change for the better since Australian Trailer Solutions Group (ATSG) took over the MaxiTRANS business in September 2021.

“I really enjoy working for the company. The new MaxiTRANS under ATSG is continuing to make improvements and creating a very supportive environment for its staff.”

Rowena says she has always been treated with respect in the workplace.

“It’s quite moving to see the growth that has happened so far,” she says.

Rowena says she would definitely recommend MaxiTRANS as a place to work.

MaxiTRANS Rowena Kilbourne at Ballarat facility Freighter Maxi-CUBE Hamelex White semi trailers

“They care about staff, they (management) will go the distance to support you. It’s a stable workplace, it’s good work. They really try to look after you.”

Rowena says there are career paths open to MaxiTRANS workers.

“I’d like to become a Welding Inspector or even go down the training route. Be a mentor even, I’d love to go there. I’m excited about it, but I have to get confidence in myself first.”

Just listening to Rowena Kilbourne talk, there is so much excitement in her outlook. A young mother, a MaxiTRANS worker who loves the art and craft of industrial welding and at the weekend plays baseball for her local Alfredton team.

And as the finished trailers roll out of the manufacturing facility, it is not hard to imagine Rowena taking a second for a proud smile as the result of her hard work, and all the MaxiTRANS team at Ballarat, leaves for a long working life on the rugged highways of Australia.