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BEING a woman in a man's world was the last thing on Alesha Foster's mind when she made the decision at age 14 to pursue engineering after a career fair in high school. In fact, the 29-year-old marine engineer acknowledges that while she now believes that no other career could bring her the joy her job does, her reason for choosing it was so unorthodox, even her family refused to take her seriously at first because they believed it to be a hoax.
“When I was in grade nine at Hampton, there was a career fair and Caribbean Maritime Institute (now University) presented their programmes. I decided that day I would pursue a career in marine engineering. I did not have a clue what working on a ship was like, but it sounded different and not a lot of people were interested, so that's what piqued my interest in the field. This caused even my family to think that I would soon change my mind,” Foster told All Woman.
And when Foster, who is now Jamaica Energy Partner (Doctor Bird's) only female plant technician, finally made the transition on completing the sixth form programme at Hampton, she anticipated a successful journey, just not one quite as eventful as she would have imagined.
“After the first year at CMI I was the recipient of a scholarship to further my studies in Canada. My family was more excited than I was about this opportunity. In fact, I felt neutral about it as I'm not easily excited, but I was grateful. Fortunately, when I arrived I had the support of Marlene Power, international programme officer at the Marine Institute of the Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador; and she made Canada feel like home and was like a mother away from home,” the St Elizabeth native shared.
She said this support was crucial to her successful completion of the one-year programme, noting that apart from a single moment that she was completely consumed by fear, everything went seamlessly.
“All was going well until I started doing a course in Confined Space Entry Awareness and the lecturer started talking about the death rate associated with this. For the first time I wondered if I should follow through. I was in a state of panic; I had to calm myself down for about 15 minutes and convince myself that I was almost at the end of this journey,” Foster recalled.
On completing school in Canada, Foster joined a vessel in Shanghai, China, and much to her relief she met two other Jamaicans and it was a rewarding experience, the only downside being the climate — it was much colder than Canada. After three years at sea she knew it was time to leave because while the experience at sea was a major stepping stone and a fundamental foundation pillar in her career, Foster said that she soon became homesick, and she had other plans that she could not execute at sea.
“The sea was not the ideal place or the final place that I wanted my career to be steered, as I had goals of starting a family and owning my home. But it was a place where I got a headstart in life so I did research for land-based opportunities for marine engineers and in 2015 I started working at the Doctor Bird Power Plant, which generates electricity for the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS),” Foster shared.
Fortunately for Foster, unlike many other people who enter fields dominated by the opposite sex, she was never subjected to stereotypes since she accepted her place at the Doctor Bird Power Plant.
“I have never made my femininity get in the way; I carry my weight as every other member of the team and I am respected amongst my colleagues. I am never afraid to get my hands dirty; if there is something to be done I just do it,” Foster offered.
In addition to her role as a plant technician, she has also been given responsibility for the reliability aspect of the Operations Department, a job she enjoys.
“My duties include the weekly heat rate test, weekly operations and maintenance, data analysis, and also extends to lab technician responsible for weekly lube oil analysis, boiler water and engine cooling water testing, and other lab-related tasks. Executing these responsibilities is quite enjoyable because I love the practical aspect of this field. I love working with my hands. This field works best with my personality. I am not a dress/skirt and heels type of person where work is concerned,” the mother of one said.
Her list of responsibilities, however, does not end there. Apart from the fact that Foster is the mother of “a very active toddler”, and a spouse, she also manages her own pastry business — serving mouth-watering delectables like cheesecake, black forest cake and potato pudding.
“My family means the world to me and so no matter how busy things get, we make time for planned family activities. We thankfully have a strong support system which is important because my spouse and I sometimes have to work the night shift (we are in the same field) and our daughter's grandmother and aunt are always willing to step in. In between all that I have to make time for my hobby-turned-business because the products are in high demand,” Foster said.
She said she loves her job for more reasons than it being “handsy” — it gives her the opportunity to do something else she loves — giving back through the Corporate and Social Responsibility Committee and the Welfare Committee. She is also now being trained for a promotion to the role of Control Room Operator — a level up from plant technician.
With only so many hours in a day, Foster is often asked how she does it. She said the formula is in your mindset.
“Be clear in what you want to do, find out the avenues that will help you get there, set your timeline, and don't be afraid to ask for help,” she said.
“Once you set your goals and you know what you are about, achieving your dreams is not impossible.”
Foster has much of what she dreamt of in place and is set on building on that foundation.
“I want to continue to improve myself, be a positive role model, and excel in my field. I also want to continue to be a great example for my daughter and ensure that I instil good values in her,” she said.