Leading the way: meet Dandenong manufacturing pioneer Jill Walsh

Read the video transcript

For proof that women are making it to the very apex in manufacturing, take a look at Jill Walsh.

Jill Walsh is partner, major contract relationship director and director of human resources at Actco-Pickering in Dandenong, which produces sheet metal components for the transport, defence and infrastructure industries and business sectors.

She is also the inaugural recipient of the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame Woman Manufacturer of the Year award, an honour she shares with co-winner, Viva Energy’s Vanessa Kearney.

Jill WalshWhile the win gave Jill “a huge well of pride, then gratitude”, perhaps even more significantly, the award – delivered by the Victorian Government – highlights how a growing culture of inclusion and gender diversity is contributing to the state’s $28 billion manufacturing sector. 

It wasn’t always that way. 

When Jill started out in manufacturing a decade back, “more often than not, she was the only woman in the room, but now, it is a totally different environment”. 

Mutual mentoring, in her view, has driven greater representation of women in the sector. “The mentoring journey began when there were just a small number of women in manufacturing – a culture of support developed and we mentored each other and that particular generosity has grown as more woman have entered manufacturing as engineers, human resources professionals, lawyers and technical support,” she says. 

Although an accountant by profession, manufacturing is Jill’s true calling. “Accounting was always and only about having the skills to understand how a business worked,” she explains, “while manufacturing provided scope to grow a business and produce a tangible outcome. It’s people and process driven – my natural environment.”

And that “people and process” habitat is where she invariably thrives. In addition to her leadership role at Actco-Pickering, Jill sits on the board for the Committee for Dandenong, which promotes manufacturing apprenticeships and social inclusion for migrants, and is a member of the Victorian Premier’s Jobs and Investment Panel, which gives strategic advice to the Victorian Government on how to drive economic growth and job creation.

Jill Walsh’s pointers for Victorian women contemplating a career in manufacturing  

Tip 1: Spend time looking at the incredible variety of manufacturing businesses.

Tip 2: Find an emotional connection through individuals working in the sector. 

Tip 3: Ask plenty of questions – there’s a wealth of information out there. 

Tip 4: Find a sense of excitement to take the first step – your skills will take you around the world.

Jill Walsh: Top 3 career highlights

  • “Lobbying for local content in passenger rail when the Victorian transport system was privatised in the late 1990s. Bombardier’s VLocity train, built with more than 70 per cent local content, is still the star of Victoria’s regional rail system.”
  • “Actco-Pickering’s 96.4 per cent staff retention rate.”
  • “We have, through many years of lobbying, gained recognition for the value to Victoria of our vibrant and competitive rail industry. After spending more than a decade lobbying governments to mandate local content in their manufacturing purchasing contracts, we now have a state government committed to local content – for example, more than 60 per cent of local content commitments into the current High Capacity Metro Train project.”

About Jill…

Jill Walsh is a partner, major contract relationship director and director of human resources at Actco Pickering, and was for a decade until 2013 the general manager of ARM Group Australia. Her first major role in manufacturing came as partner for a company that developed service stations and small shopping centres in Queensland. She moved on to purchase a sheet metal fabrication business called Actco. After tripling the workforce from 10 to 30 in just three years, Actco later merged with Pickering Sheet Metal and moved to Dandenong. Actco-Pickering then joined a consortium to form ARM Group, totalling 250 employees, to supply components to the rail industry.