Jessie’s Journey: From Heels to Steel Caps – Empowering Women in Utility Locating

In a tale of resilience and determination, Jessie McCracken is currently one of only nine women in Australia who are Certified Locators. Transitioning from corporate accounting to construction sites, her journey exemplifies the expanding horizons for women in traditionally male-dominated fields.

As an accountant, she was well accustomed to corporate life, but following the birth of her daughter and the unexpected separation from her husband just four days later, Jessie found herself in a challenging personal situation.

Jessie needed a career change, one that offered flexibility to manage the demands of single motherhood. Through assisting her parent’s earthmoving company, which utilised vacuum excavation trucks, she discovered the world of utility locating. Witnessing the work first-hand, Jessie saw an opportunity that fit her needs.

Jessie contacted a local Certified Locator that she knew of through her parents, Paul from CUSL (Cairns Underground Service Locators).

With Paul nearing retirement, Jessie enquired about the possibility of shadowing him to learn the ropes of locating. This initial request turned into Paul training and mentoring Jessie for a year, allowing her to gain valuable experience before pursuing formal certification through DBYD Certification with a goal to take over Paul’s business. She took over the service area and some of the clientele but had the freedom to take the business and make it her own.

Balancing motherhood and a demanding new skillset presented unique challenges. This period meant that she was breastfeeding between locating jobs, all while learning a new career.

In 2021, she took a bold step and founded Northern Underground Cable Finder, and ensured they became a Certified Locating Organisation. Through her company, she actively promotes a more inclusive and diverse workforce in the industry.

Trading high heels for steel-capped boots, Jessie’s story is an inspiration. Showcasing the exciting and flexible opportunities in utility locating for women, mothers, and younger generations. But her work goes beyond navigating underground networks. Safety is her focus. By ensuring the accurate identification of buried utilities, Jessie protects workers, infrastructure, and the communities she serves.

As she breaks barriers and explores new territories, Jessie McCracken’s journey reminds us that with determination and perseverance, any obstacle can be overcome, and any dream can be realised.

🔗 Connect with Jessie and Northern Underground Cable Finder:

Northern Underground Cable Finder

💪🔧 #WomenCertifiedLocators #Certified Locator #EmpoweringWomen

Becoming an Australian Certified Locator is a significant milestone in the career of every underground utility professional. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Earnest Banhwa, the Principal Surveyor at Precise Positioning Solutions Pty Ltd in Queensland, to delve into his experience with the Certified Locator journey. 

Name: Earnest Banhwa
Role/Position: Principal Surveyor
Organisation: Precise Positioning Solutions Pty Ltd
State: Queensland
Locator Experience: 3 years

Q: What does becoming a Certified Locator mean to you?
A: Becoming a Certified Locator is more than just a title; it’s a testament to our company’s ability to deliver both surveying and cable locating services. It adds a layer of credibility that resonates with potential clients, emphasising our commitment to excellence in the field. 

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
A: The journey to certification was not without its hurdles. I began my training amidst the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to logistical challenges. Traveling from Rockhampton to Brisbane for face-to-face training and later the practical assessment was a task in itself. Several postponements prolonged the certification process, testing both my patience and dedication. 

Q: What is your favourite thing about being a locator?
A: Being involved in the initial phases for construction projects is exciting. Construction should not commence without knowing what lies beneath the surface. As a locator and surveyor, I play a critical role in ensuring a safe and informed beginning to these projects. 

Q: Share a dangerous/interesting/funny/strange situation during a locate. 

Locating in thick and tall grass and encountering snakes is keeping me on high alert in those situations. Opening broken pits can also present unforeseen dangers. 

With my surveying background, the ability to now open pits and trace from one pit to another pit added an interesting dimension to my work. 

Q: When doing locating work, what does safety mean to you?
A: Safety is paramount. Before starting any locating activity, I do a comprehensive safety assessment. I want to return to my family in the same state I left home in the morning.  

Q: What tip would you give to other locators interested in becoming certified?
A: Enrol in a formal training course and, most importantly, never stop practising. Continuous learning and hands-on experience are key to mastering the required skills. 

By sharing his insights, Earnest Banhwa invites fellow locators to embrace the Certified Locator journey. His experiences, from facing challenges to relishing the fascinating aspects of the job, reflect the dedication required in this crucial role. Safety, professionalism, and continuous learning define the path to becoming a Certified Locator. 

If you want to get in touch with Earnest or Precise Positioning Services:
LinkedIn – Earnest Banhwa
LinkedIn – Precise Positioning Solutions Pty Ltd  

John O’Brien, an experienced Senior Certified Locator/Manager at Locate Scan & Survey, provides insights into his initial year in the industry, covering South-Eastern parts of Australia.

With his recent certification, John offers perspectives on both the challenges and noteworthy aspects of his profession.

Becoming a Certified Locator is a career achievement for John, ensuring that the skills he brings to the industry are now widely recognised by his certification. “It means a great deal to me, opening doors for more locating services work from companies seeking Certified Locators,” says John.

Not being on the one job site all the time allows me to discover different facets of NSW, places even some locals have never been to.

Reflecting on his early struggles, John recalls grappling with electrical utility systems during his training. “I initially struggled with the intricacies, particularly with electrical utility systems, but with practice, I got the hang of it,” he admits.

A defining aspect of John’s role is the diversity it offers, allowing him to explore different regions within NSW.

John reflects on his recent work in Sydney, specifically on the light rail corridor project for Gartner Rose. He notably mentions his involvement in The GreenWay Project, an innovative cycling, pedestrian, and biodiversity corridor across the Inner West. Moving from conducting sonde operations on Pitt St to handling tasks in regional areas of NSW, the job is certainly different. 

Navigating through diverse landscapes, from Moree to Griffith, Cootamundra, and the Sydney city centre, John recounts the fascinating places he has located. His work offers a unique perspective on the networks that lie beneath the surface of these locations. 

Safety is a top priority for John, particularly in a field with live traffic and the need for traffic management systems.

“Protecting the public and myself is crucial, following safety procedure, like pit guards to ensure no one slips into an open pit. I’ve also obtained a confined space ticket and first aid ticket to add to my qualifications,” he says. 

For those aspiring to become Certified Locators, John’s advice is straightforward. “Get the practice and knowledge in, understand how dials work, and don’t shy away from seeking guidance,” he suggests.  

Congratulations to John! We wish you all the best in your career.


Connect with Locate Scan & Survey on Facebook  

Find out more about becoming a Certified Locator here

To contact a Certified Locator for your next projectsearch here

Problem solving is something all utility locators seem to have in common – and Peter Hawkes is no exception. 

Located in Coffs Harbour, northern NSW, Peter is the Director of his business Locate3D. He says one of the most challenging things about being a locator is also what he likes most. 

“I like working out what’s going on underground and how best to overcome each obstacle that comes along.”  

“On the flip side, one of the other challenges is handling last-minute calls from clients who urgently need us onsite. Not only does it throw your day’s plans out but it’s frustrating to turn up and find the excavator operator ready and waiting on us to do a locate and give the all clear. 

“It’s certainly not the safest way to prepare for an excavation job,” said Peter. 

Safety plays a very important role when working around existing utilities. Peter says safety is paramount on every locate job. 

‘It’s not just the personal and work health and safety aspects, but it’s also the quality of the locate that’s vital.” 

Peter was a utility locator for three years when he took the steps to become a Certified Locator. 

“It was great to finally get certified. I had my staff, who were all Certified Locators, so it was time for me to set the right example. The move has also been great for my business. 

“Being certified means I get out of the office much more and do the field work which I enjoy,” said Peter.  

One of the perks of the job is getting to locate at some pretty amazing places. Peter’s favourite locating destination so far was  Lord Howe Island.  

When asked what tip he would give to someone considering becoming a Certified Locator, Peter says just do it, get out there and get the experience. 

“Becoming certified not only improves your locating skills but enhances your knowledge base and career opportunities,” said Peter. 

Congratulations to Peter on achieving his Locator Certification!


Connect with Locate3D on Facebook 

Find out more about becoming a Certified Locator here. 

To contact a Certified Locator for your next project search here. 

For Joshua Taylor, Director and owner of Subsurface Locating, completing a locating job to an accepted industry standard means doing all you can to protect people and utility assets.

“Becoming a Certified Locator is about applying the knowledge, skills and processes in the field. Having a national standard and framework to work helps safeguard professionals, as well as the clients and assets we work to protect.

“For me, safety is a number one priority.

“I see our job as contributing to that by applying our skills and knowledge and using the right equipment to locate and identify underground assets to protect them from damage, and, in turn, protect the people who will then work on the site – and the public too,” explained Joshua.

Joshua experienced a situation which highlighted the importance of applying a careful and diligent process, as well as making sure when a client hires a utility locator they check the locator is at least competent and at best a Certified Locator.

“We did a job at a school once where a construction project was underway. Despite previous attempts to locate the services on site, the school’s power and water were both cut during the works. So we were brought in to have a good look around and find what services were buried where.

“Since they already experienced issues with the previous damage, we wanted to be extra thorough. In addition to the assets we had already EMF located, we brought in the GPR to get a greater insight of what else might be hiding underground and provide that piece of mind,” said Joshua.

As with many locators, one of the aspects Joshua loves about utility locating is that every job is different, and he gets to learn and experience something new every day.

“I enjoy being able to use many different pieces of equipment, including push GPR and concrete scanners. One of the most interesting jobs involved heading to the Outback to scan for improperly filled, abandoned mine shafts,” said Joshua.

Joshua says one of the great things about locating is that when there’s skills or concepts you’re not understanding or applying properly, it’s easy to access the support to learn and brush up on your skills and knowledge.

“In the process of becoming a Certified Locator, I found I struggled a bit with locating sondes. Kim Simpson, one of the DBYD assessors, gave me some useful feedback which helped immensely in that regard,” shared Joshua.

If you’re thinking about making the move to utility locating and then getting certified, Joshua recommends doing a locating training course and finding good people in the industry to help you learn.

“This is important for becoming a good locator, as well as for learning to run a business if you’re going to work alone. Getting to know your peers in the industry can also help in finding the right equipment for a reasonable price, and obtaining work,” said Joshua.

“If you’re in doubt about locating, even after running through different methods in your skillset, pack it up.

“Locating isn’t a guessing game. Clients need to know your receiver isn’t a magic wand.

“It’s okay for someone with more experience, or additional equipment such as a hydrovac truck, to get involved and complete a job safely,” added Joshua.

Find out more about becoming a Certified Locator here.

To contact a Certified Locator for your next project search here.

Connect with Subsurface Locating on Instagram and visit their website.

In addition to operating Subsurface Locating, Joshua also moonlights with South East Scanning.

After nine years of surveying and working with utility locators, Leyton Varley finally decided to give into his curiosity about locating.

“I approached the Head of Utilities at work and my manager about my interest in locating. They both loved the idea of me progressing my career and learning a new skill,” said Leyton.

It was a change in direction that Leyton hasn’t regretted.

“Becoming a locator has brought new opportunities to learn, grow and excel within an evolving construction industry. It’s also opened new pathways for both my career and at work that I never imagined,” said Leyton.

Leyton is a Senior Surveyor and Utility Locator with Survey Management Solutions, in Melbourne, Victoria. He says the most challenge aspect of the job is dealing with distorted signals. On the flipside, his favourite thing about being a locator is the problem solving and playing a role in protecting his colleagues from harm.

“Safety is extremely important to me. It’s also key pillar of our company and our highest priority on any work site.

“Being able to locate and protect underground services from accidental damage brings me great satisfaction – it means I’m protecting workmates and others from harm. With construction being a high-risk industry, nothing’s more important than going home to your loved ones every night,” said Leyton.

Taking care at work certainly applied to Leyton in one instance. He recalled his most dangerous encounter to date was with a huge brown snake he uncovered curled up in a Telstra pit.

“Safe to say this pit was UTO (unable to open) that day! Maybe I should’ve clamped it to see if it had a trace,” joked Leyton.

Locating is often likened to detective work, it involves problem solving, exploring and unearthing interesting finds, as Leyton has discovered.

“We carried out a QL-A and QL-B locate and survey job in a main street of Collingwood, alongside saw-cutting and NDD (non-destructive digging) workers. What made this job so interesting was seeing multiple layers of old bluestone that was still there well below the existing surface.

“It was fascinating to see the remnants of an old Melbourne street – and many unknown services too!” said Leyton.

In becoming a locator, Leyton also sought to take the next step and become a Certified Locator. His approach was to go slow and make sure he was prepared for each stage of his training and certification.

“I didn’t rush into the certification program. I made sure I was diligent with my work and training, so I was well prepared for the exams.

“Being a surveyor, I took the slower route, managing both survey work and locating training together. I believe the extra time I took meant I was ready for the tests and made me a better locator in the long run.

“Learning from quality, experienced locators made all the difference too,” said Leyton.

Congratulations on becoming a Certified Locator Leyton! With more than 900 Certified Locators across Australia, you’re part of the solution that helps keep site crews safe – and prevents damage to underground utilities.

Find out more about becoming a Certified Locator here.

To contact a Certified Locator for your next project search here.

Connect with Leyton on LinkedIn.

Connect with Survey Management Solutions on LinkedIn.


Beau Atkinson, Service Locator, maybe a relative newbie to utility locating, but that didn’t stop him from quickly moving onto the next step and becoming a Certified Locator.

The importance of safety seems second nature to Beau who says becoming certified was about the recognition of his commitment to locating and doing it to the best of his ability.

“Becoming a Certified Locator gives me a sense of pride in being able to give people peace of mind, so they can go home safe at the end of the day. It also means making sure I can watch my kids grow up,” said Beau.

It sounds like that pride also comes from working with a great team. Beau says his favourite thing about locating is the company he works for, Georadar Australia.

When you’re a utility locator you get to visit lots of interesting and different sites and locations across Australia. With work based around central Queensland, Beau has seen many scenic spots including the stunning Carnarvon Gorge in the Central Highlands.

“I see so many picturesque places. But Carnarvon Gorge would have to be up there!” said Beau.

Locators are never short a of story about interesting or unusual location experiences. For Beau, it was doing a job outside the rural town of Rolleston.

“I was on a job locating earths for Ergon. I was locating a HV (high voltage) earth due to high resistance. It turns out the farmer put his shiny new gate through the earth in two different spots!” said Beau.

A great reminder to always check what’s below no matter how remote you think you are from utility services. Using the services of a Certified Locator is the safe way to go about it.

If you’re interested on becoming a Certified Locator, Beau’s tips are not to overthink the process.

“Listen to the experts and don’t be afraid to ask the stupid questions,” said Beau.

Find out more about becoming a Certified Locator here.

To contact a Certified Locator for your next project search here.

Connect with Beau on Facebook

Connect with Georadar Australia on LinkedIn and Facebook

Being able to locate any part of North Queensland is paradise says Russell Fry, Managing Director at Groundvac.  

“We’ve got so many beaches. It’s my favourite place to work. Although, I get very conflicted about being at work when the weather is excellent for fishing,” said Russell.

Unfortunately, not all locations are quite so paradisaical. Sometimes Russell and his team have to locate live water lines where they can get thoroughly drenched trying to sonde or get a traceable rod into position.

Despite some of the environmental challenges, Russell loves being a locator.

“I enjoy the problem solving and using the variety of techniques required to achieve as much certainty as possible. I also like to see how accurate we are – we use our vac trucks to then do the physical locate to check.

Safety is also a very important aspect of our job. If you don’t work safely – nothing else matters,” said Russell.

Russell has been a locator for two years and recently took the next step to become a Certified Locator. He saw this an opportunity to not only expand the range of services the business offers but to also provide a more comprehensive range.

In preparing for the certification process, Russell said the most challenging part was the idea of doing the assessment.

“While preparing for an assessment can be daunting, if you put in the effort and follow the procedure, you’ll be fine,” said Russell.

Russell’s other tip for locators interested in becoming certified is to get experience.

“Practical experience is a must, there is no substitute,” said Russell.

Congratulations Russell on becoming a Certified Locator. With as little as 860 Certified Locators across Australia, you’re now part of a unique group recognised for applying a high-level of locating skills and knowledge to help protect Australia’s utility network from damage and contribute to a safer workplace.

Find out more about becoming a Certified Locator here.

To contact a Certified Locator for your next project search here.

Connect with Russell on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Connect with Groundvac on LinkedIn and Facebook.