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Female Pest Controller of the Year – an interview

Female pest controller Michelle is a mentor to others

The Professional Women in Australian Pest Management 2020 Excellence Award Winner – Michelle Downs from Gold Coast business Lethal Pest Control – was kind enough to spend time with Rapid Solutions. We spoke to her about life as a female pest controller, her eagerness to mentor and what she loves about the business.

How do you feel about having won this award?

I’m very grateful for winning and it’s wonderful to be recognised, and also really nice to look back on how far I’ve progressed.

I’ve enjoyed reflecting how far I’ve come across my years in the business, from my first customer to now being booked out. I’m very heavy with work at the moment – someone switched on the switch in spring!

It’s a pleasure to win the award in so many ways. One key reason is that I want it to lead to exposure for other women in the pest management industry. I want to really put it out there to other women and pest control companies that women can do it all. From admin right through to the treatment process.  

Once they know this kind of recognition can happen, more women will consider it as a career. I feel passionate about women in the industry, in any trade to be honest. I have a trade background and have always been the only woman in my workplace. It’s been challenging at times, but mostly very rewarding.

Tell us how and why you chose pest control as a career path?

I don’t believe many people choose pest control, I think pest control chooses you. I fell into it nine years ago in an unusual manner.

My background is in conservation land management, and whilst starting up my own business this led me to look for a vehicle to spray weeds and do other land management activities with. A guy was selling a pest control vehicle and was retiring from the industry. He asked if I’d like to buy the ute and the business logo.

I agreed and obtained my required qualifications, thinking what better way to operate and incorporate the two fields – by looking after the environment and doing pest control in a sensitive manner. Then I completed a Certificate III in Pest Management and never looked back.

I really enjoy the variation of work, it’s very appealing, and the indoors/outdoors element. I don’t like to be stuck in one place and doing the same thing.

What was it like becoming a female pest controller in a male dominated industry?

It’s definitely a male dominated industry and there’s a real perception that girls don’t like bugs, hot work, etc. People presume pest control isn’t an enjoyable field, but personally I love it. There is so much to offer.

There have been times of challenge and not every man is accepting of women. But 95% of the men I’ve come across are stoked when they see a woman on the job. They are very accommodating and most will offer their full support.

Interestingly, for my first time out on the field, the guy I went out with was uncertain. But every single customer was impressed that he had a female working with him. He didn’t come with me anymore after that! He didn’t feel the need to. I felt so great the customers received me so well. I realised ‘I and other women have a niche here’.

What inspires you about your career as a female pest controller?

You never stop learning – that’s a really important thing. You’re always learning even if you’ve been taught by the best. Everyone’s input is valuable. Every person has something to bring to the table and this knowledge is passed on. For example, I know someone who specialises in cockroaches, another in termites and their behaviours, and others in pest identification etc. The professional development opportunities are endless.

The support from other pest technicians inspires me a lot. Their knowledge is invaluable. Some of them are now friends and some I work alongside.

I get a lot of satisfaction in the happiness my customers give me every time I see them and by referring me through word of mouth. Even if you have one bad day all it takes is an uplifting customer to call to turn that around.

What do you see as your biggest career achievement to date?

Winning the award has to be right up there because it’s the first time I’ve received recognition in this industry. I’ve been a solo female operator, plodding along, not thinking too much about the future and focusing on my jobs here and now.

Today, I’m looking at what’s next. I’m taking a stand on the business and being proactive about planning where I want to be in the future.

I also did not realise the support I had until winning this award. There are a lot of quiet achievers sitting on the sideline supporting women in our industry and I personally want other women to strive. I hope winning the award encourages them to do so.

What’s your advice to others who are considering becoming a female pest controller?

I’d encourage women all day to become a female pest control tech. That’s my passion: for more women to join this industry. If women could go out for a day in the field and get the experience, to see what we do, that would be encouraging. It’d be motivation and would support the concept that they can do and achieve whatever level they want in this career.

You don’t need muscle and brawn to do this. In fact, I find women can have more dexterity and we often go the extra mile for our customers. It’s something inbuilt in women, I think.

Pest control doesn’t have the limitations that many people think it does. Whether you’re a female pest controller or a male pest controller, there are so many fantastic different areas you can venture off into. You go further in life when you’re passionate. If you want to grow, the options are unlimited with pest control.

How important is ongoing training?

I think it’s very important. I was someone who had to learn from the books then seek mentoring from other businesses, and both types of training are invaluable.

I’d like to see a lot more of that go on – people upskilling regularly and undertaking more on-the-job development. It’s vital you continue learning throughout your career, whether that’s a seminar, webinar, online pest management course or more. Our industry is advancing daily; I’m continuously learning about new products and systems.

If you have an interest and or passion in something, learning is easy.

Tell us about your involvement in the Professional Women in Australian Pest Management (PWAPM) organisation?

It’s a fantastic organisation. I’m an active participant in the Facebook page, as I want to add content. I take time out to post videos there, to demonstrate the steps you need to do certain jobs. I hope that demonstrating visually might pull a few more women out there into the field.

I’ve found the PWAPM group to be a very supportive network of women. It’s a great platform for learning and connection that I’d suggest every woman looking at this industry goes to. It’s a great stepping stone for women to touch base with other female pest control professionals, ask questions, seek advice, share stories, etc, without judgement.

I don’t think there’s anyone on there that’s been out of line. We’re supporting and accepting. We uplift each other.

Tell us about your opinion on business insurance, such as professional indemnity and general liability

There would be some people who operate without insurance for their pest business, which isn’t good. However, I would think most people would be smart enough to know it’s imperative to protect yourself, others and your assets in case you’re caught out. There is always that possibility of litigation.

I insure with Rapid Solutions every year since being in business and they’ve always been easy to deal with. They’re reasonably priced and always get back to me quickly. Rapid has software and paperwork offered to members and – most importantly – they’re specialists for the correct insurance cover for our particular industry.

Anything else you’d like to tell us, knowing other female (and male!) pest controllers will read this?

I’d like to encourage all women, and men, who are interested in taking on either a Certificate III in Pest Management or General Pest Technician course to seriously consider it. They have my 100% support.

I personally am always contactable if they have any questions. Anyone who needs training or mentoring – I’m only a phone call away. I will do what I can to help you and if I can’t I will connect you with someone who can.

I don’t want our industry split between us and them, between males and females. That’s unnecessary and unconstructive. The quicker the progression towards acceptance and equality the quicker we’ll have more women in the field.

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