NOT afraid to tackle challenges, Jacqueline Williams was able to wow her assessors when she stepped into a Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus 12 years ago and drove it without any prior training. She was able to elicit a similar reaction from her peers when she started driving the articulated trailer for the Kingston Container Terminal (KCT) in 2011.
Female drivers were not as common when Williams signed on with the state-owned bus company, but at the time, she had already given birth to two of her four children, and her job as a freelance nail technician was barely footing the bills.
Buoyed by a need to survive and by a deep sense of curiosity, she applied — notwithstanding the fact that up until that point, the largest vehicle she had ever driven was a motor car.
"I knew how to drive, but I had never driven a bus or a vehicle that size before, but I saw someone and I asked and they told me how to apply and I applied and I got through," said Williams, who still remembers paying someone $70 per hour when she was 21 years old to teach her to drive a motor car.
Following her oral interview at JUTC, she was taken to the depot where her driving skills were put to the test.
Passing the test
"A lot of men couldn't manage the bus, because it was a standard bus and the gears were difficult, but somehow I managed. We were trained for six weeks and then we went out into the field," said the soft-spoken 41-year-old.
Having satisfied her evaluators, Williams was employed, and following her training, was placed at the Spanish Town depot.
"The nerves didn't set in until when I started working, because it's a lot of responsibility on you, because you have sometimes in excess of 50 persons on the bus and you are responsible for all those persons," she said.
She added: "You had to prove your competence. You couldn't expect to get by due to the fact that you were a woman, and a lot of people were abusive initially, because when I just started I used to drive slow."
Things got better for her quickly, however, and in no time, she garnered the respect of her passengers. It was one of these passengers that she credits for actually giving her the idea to apply to KCT.
"I felt like I wanted a change and I met someone on the bus who works at Kingston Wharves and I asked him if they were taking on persons and he told me no, but that KCT was employing. I applied and I got through," she said.
For Williams, who had failed miserably when her father attempted to teach her to ride a bicycle, the idea of driving a trailer was nerve-wracking. But after 12 years spent at JUTC, she wanted a change.
"I was nervous because it's a different dimension, because it's not just a straight thing as you were used to, because it is now articulated and there are different rules governing how they work. It was okay driving them forward, as long as you have proper judgement to know how wide to go to make a turn and all of that, but the trick is in the reversing. In order to reverse, you have to put the vehicle in the opposite direction of where you want to go and it took me a while to be able to do that," she said.
Williams got just seven weeks to prove her proficiency at trailer driving to her employers. It was a tall order for her, but she was determined to get it right and was able to do so in the nick of time.
"Part of the test was that you had to be able to park the trailer into a slot and that was two white lines and you had to park the trailer with the container in between those two white lines," she explained.
Although she was able to secure the job with KCT, Williams continued to work at JUTC until January of this year when she officially resigned.
"What I used to do is that I used to juggle both jobs; so I used to work at the wharf at nights and then come off in the mornings, go home and sleep and then go to JUTC in the afternoon," she said.
Thankfully, her sister who lives next door kept an eye on her children, and her two eldest daughters ensured that their younger siblings were taken care of when mommy was away on the graveyard shift.
Why we love her
Giving up her job at JUTC meant that Williams now has a bit more time on her hands, and she plans to use that time to volunteer with children. The mother found herself counselling her young passengers a lot while she was on her routes, and hopes to pursue studies to become a social worker, so she can be even more effective.
"I see a lot of needs out there — and you really don't need to have money for those needs to be met. Because sometimes when persons have issues, they need someone to listen, more than to talk. Sometimes they might not feel comfortable talking to someone that they know," she said.
"I am more worried about the children; the way the children are going, the lack of proper parenting, and the issues the children are now having. So I wanted to offer some assistance to children, in maybe helping to motivate them and try and show that there is a better way and it's best to stick to the narrow path rather than to branch out into what seems to be popular," she added.
Williams enjoyed an idealistic childhood in Wakefield, St Catherine on a large orchard farm before her family moved to the Caymanas Estate where her father, an accountant, did bookkeeping. Although she was unable to finish her schooling at St Jago High, her tenacious spirit drove her to continue her studies by attending evening classes. Later on, she enrolled at the HEART/Trust NTA where she pursued training in cosmetology.
"The sky is the limit; if you set your mind to do something, most of the time, you are able to do it," she encouraged women, even as she cautioned them not to expect special treatment simply because of their gender.
"When it is something that you really love, you go out there and know that you are a part of a team, rather than saying 'I am a female', you have to strive to be part of a team, it works better," she said.