It began with avoiding PE lessons at school. Now Carmella Barbour is in charge of her own quarry …

Why did you want to work on a quarry?
It wasn’t one of those things where you just wake up one day and think: “That’s what I want to do!” I was in the sixth form and on Wednesday afternoons you could either do sport or work experience; I was always looking for ways to get out of PE, so work experience was the natural choice. I was doing geology A-level, so I took a job shadowing the geology and estates department at the local quarrying company, and that involved visiting quarries.

What was the next move?
I went for interviews with aggregates companies to get sponsorship for a degree in quarry and road surface engineering, and Aggregate Industries made me an offer. There were only three places in the country that ran the course: Nottingham, Leeds and Doncaster. I chose Doncaster as it involved six months’ work experience on site each year, which helped me learn the lingo and find out how things worked.

Was the degree vital?
I think there’s more of an emphasis on getting a degree now; it’s not so much about getting involved in the physical labour side of things (although I do still manage to get my hands dirty now and again). Compared with 20 years ago, there is a lot more emphasis on issues such as health and safety and environmental and financial management. But you don’t necessarily need to have studied quarry management.

A company such as Aggregate also considers graduates in other disciplines. If you’re not a sponsored student, there’s an 18-month training scheme that allows you to go round different aspects of the business.

Are you enjoying the job?
Yes. There’s a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of variety. I couldn’t just sit in an office all day – but at least if it’s raining I still have that option!

Are there many women going into your line of work?
We’re still definitely in the minority. At college, I was the only girl in my year – there were two in the year above and one in the year below.

Is it ever difficult working in such a male-dominated part of the industry?
It’s challenging rather than difficult but it’s down to personality. You have to be outgoing and confident, and that goes for my male counterparts, too. If you don’t like the way people talk to you, it’s down to you to do something to change it. Mostly, it’s fine. A lot of the older guys see it as a bit like working for their wife or daughter: they can be protective – apologising for swearing, that sort of thing. And it can work to your advantage: at college, all the blokes had to do about two weeks’ shovelling; I got away with about half an hour!

Carmella Barbour

Age 25
Employment history Worked as an assistant manager at a quarry in Manchester after graduating and then as a quarry supervisor in Leicester. Has just moved to her current position as quarry manager at Ivonbrook Quarry in Matlock, Derbyshire
Qualifications Degree in quarry management from Doncaster College. Converted this to an honours degree by studying for a further year at Leeds University
Lives Leicester, with her husband
Hobbies "Since starting my new job, it's mainly been working, eating and sleeping. But I enjoy socialising and going to movies with friends."