By Casey Neill
“This lady’s a force of nature.”
And with that introduction, Industry and Employment Minister Ben Carroll announced Jill Walsh as the joint winner of the Woman Manufacturer of the Year.
It was a new Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame Awards honour, presented at a Crown Palladium event on Monday 28 May.
Ms Walsh, from Dandenong South’s Actco-Pickering Metal Industries, accepted the award alongside Vanessa Kearney from Viva Energy.
“I just felt this amazing sense of pride, really,” she told the Journal the following day.
“It’s been a long commitment to manufacturing, nearly 20 years.”
During that time she’s been a staunch advocate for others in the industry.
She’s served the Premier’s Jobs and Investment Panel, Southern Melbourne Regional Development Australia (RDA) committee, Committee for Dandenong and the South East Melbourne Manufacturers Alliance (SEMMA).
Ms Walsh even ran for a seat on Greater Dandenong Council in a bid to be a voice for manufacturers in local government.
“I believe that manufacturing and engineering is integral to the future of this state and our country,” she said.
“We need to retain the ability to build things, whether they’re trains or ships or planes or whatever.
“I believe that manufacturing is the true wealth-creator in our society.”
It all started when Ms Walsh was a 17-year-old receptionist.
“I thought ‘I know I could do more than what I’m doing and the way to get there is education’,” she said.
“I went back to night school to do Years 11 and 12 and eventually accounting.”
She entered the manufacturing fold by buying “a small business that would only be five days a week”.
“The joke was on us there,” she laughed.
“We originally had about eight staff. We had to growth the business.
“We looked around for a merger partner. I made one phone call to Andrew Pickering.
“We had lunch about a week later and less than two months later we were merged.”
Today she splits her time between HR directing and monitoring the manufacturing landscape.
Channel Nine newsreader Alicia Loxley, the awards night’s MC, described Ms Walsh as “a real trailblazer”.
She hosted an on-stage fireside chat with several award winners, during which Ms Walsh told the audience that entering a then-male dominated industry had been daunting.
“Because so often I was the only woman in the room,” she said.
“I was always waiting to be asked to make coffee, initially.”
Ms Walsh said perseverance, resilience and passion were her keys to success.
“I believe in what I do,” she said.
Mr Carroll said manufacturing had a bright future.
“Victoria’s manufacturing industry is powering ahead and it is people like Vanessa Kearney, Jill Walsh and (Young Manufacturer of the Year) Vanessa Katsanevakis who are helping lead the way,” he said.