When Genna Allan took a step out from her role as an early childhood educator in Central Otago, she thought giving an old mate a hand in his business might bide some time over the summer. A year on, she is on the tools, fencing everyday across some of New Zealand’s most striking and awe-inspiring countryside.
“One of the greatest rewards of my job is the variety of office space. I’ll get up a hill and say, ‘This is a nice office for today!’ or walk away at the end of a week, looking back on an amazing fence.”
While Genna didn’t “seek out” a fencing career, she now enjoys an office view second-to-none, a workplace that doubles as a fitness centre, job satisfaction and an ideal mix of using her existing talents while building and refining new skills.
Brian Abercrombie started off Abercrombie Fencing Services in 2006. His son Andrew joined in 2015 and learnt the finer skills of rural farm fencing. Since then, they have expanded into security, residential, and retaining walls. “Pretty much everything.”
Andrew Abercrombie, Genna’s boss, says many things take time for new staff to learn. “What I have found with Genna is her commitment and eye for detail.”
That sharp eye came to the fore straight away. “When I started, I’d notice when a line was off and call it. I guess I bring a bit of a woman’s perspective.”
The same close attention to detail has helped Andrew be more on the mark too.
Many residential clients love having Genna on board. “We have had a couple of female clients who have come over for a chat and advice on the aesthetics of residential jobs.”
Obviously, there are physically challenging times in the fencing game, particularly farm fencing. At Abercrombie Fencing Services most heavy and repetitive work is done by machinery. Andrew explains that over time Genna has built up enough physical strength to do what she needs to do. “She has had to find her own way around it. As long as the results the same I am happy.”
And, while Genna finds the creative aspect and the physicality of fencing rewarding, she is the first to admit that there were things she couldn’t do at the beginning. “I’d say my hand strength was zero for cutting wires with pliers. Reels of wire, netting and posts could be super heavy. I am quite capable now.”
On top of her growing hand and upper body strength, she hasn’t been for a single run since she started. “I don’t need a gym and I don’t think I could work in an indoor job again.”
”Now I carry weights over several kilometres every day, or spend eight hours squatting putting in waratahs or threading wires — and I get paid for it!
Good quality tools make everything easier too. Andrew says if he didn’t have a Stockade ST400i stapler tool, he wouldn’t have Genna and it is her favourite piece of equipment. “If she was stapling by hand, I think she would have left a long time ago!”
“It’s true. I don’t really like hammering in staples. I think the stapler tool gives a better, cleaner finish. You are just boom-boom-boom in a straight line down the netting. It is all about controlling the angle, positioning on the post and the depth as well. That’s the attention to detail!”
“Right at the start, when you are doing five kilometres of fencing up and doing hills the tool could get pretty heavy on the arm, but since then it is literally ‘boom-boom-boom-boom – next post – boom-boom-boom-boom’. A couple of times Andrew has stood back with a smile on his face and said, ‘I’m so proud of how you do with that now’.”
Business is good and two months ago, Becky Rae joined the Abercrombie crew as a casual employee and is loving the job.
Genna also enjoys seeing women joining the fencing community.
“It’s definitely a talking point around the region! With all the trade gear, tools, and workwear too, there is more variety and fit for women. Still, it can be pretty funny to see some of the reactions to Becky and me dressed in our gear, lifting the palings out and using the impact drivers.”
“We do a huge variety of fence construction and we are starting to do more cut steel, lifestyle, and macrocarpa fencing with new technologies. We have joked about me going into the fencing competitions. Sometimes I think I’m pretty good!”