When Sofia Marilla left her factory job inspecting vegetables for a living and told her road engineer father she was going to follow his footsteps into an engineering career, he proudly said “I have my legacy”.

The Ashburton local is a key part of the HEB Construction road maintenance team that keeps Ashburton’s roading network in good shape and enjoys the variety of the role as well as thrill of working with some serious machinery.

Working as a labourer and machine operator is a welcome change from the job she found herself in soon after finishing school, working as a Quality Assurance Tester on a factory floor inspecting an endless line of vegetables before they were packed into bags.

“It’s good to be able get outside, work with your hands and your brain to figure out the best way to do things”, she says.

Sofia is working on Ashburton’s roads every day but has the full support of HEB to continue developing her skills as a civil engineer by studying an engineering diploma part time, which she aims to complete over the next three or four years.

She says she loves the sense of achievement that comes from learning new skills and gets a lot of satisfaction from knowing the work she does has a positive effect on the community around her.

“To be able to improve footpaths, drains and driveways so it makes it easier for people to come and go about their everyday lives is pretty cool.

“The stuff we do is for the community, it’s not just one person who gets something out of it – it’s for everyone.”

Sofia says every day offers a unique challenge and there’s always something new to learn or smarter ways of doing things.

“I love the variety of it all.”

In the time since she joined HEB’s Ashburton Road Maintenance Team in December 2020, Sofia has gained a lot of experience. While she started off painting rails and holding ‘stop go’ signs, she now installs underground pipes and sumps and has built up solid experience driving heavy machinery.

A typical day might see Sofia driving 7- or 14-tonne loading trucks, or operating rollers or excavators – her favourite piece of heavy machinery. She had nothing but a restricted licence when she started out but has since gained her Wheels, Tracks and Rollers licence endorsement and recently celebrated getting her Class 4 heavy vehicle licence, enhancing her capabilities on the job.

Sofia says when she arrived in New Zealand from the Philippines in 2013, she had to make a quick decision about which NCEA subjects to choose. Even then, she had an inkling civil engineering might be for her, and wisely chose maths, science and English with an eye to the future. She credits part of this choice to her father, who suggested road maintenance would be an ideal career to start out on and learn the ropes while she studied.

As a five-foot-tall female, Sofia is conscious she might not fit the mould of a typical road maintenance worker, but she hasn’t let that hold her back and is happy with what she’s achieved so far. Her current career goal is to become a foreperson, looking after one of the road teams she’s worked on, and those working alongside her are betting she will achieve it.

“Don’t let anything stop you from succeeding, I always look for what I can do to move forward,” she says.

With a civil engineering diploma on the horizon and her personal development going from strength to strength, Sofia wants other career seekers to know there’s always a way to work round limitations they might face: “where there’s a will there’s a way.”

“I started off with no experience, HEB gave me a chance and here I am.”