European Federation of Foundation Contractors

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Women in Piling

There has been much debate over the years about attracting more women into the piling and foundations sector, and whilst this process can still be considered something of a “work in progress” there are a number of success stories from across Europe. Sharing with all how these women choose construction and the foundations sector specifically is important, as it highlights the route, the challenges and their motivations, which together will help attract more women into what is an exciting, vibrant and rewarding sector.

Emily Wood, Geotechnical Engineer – BAM Ritchies
Emily Wood, a Geotechnical Engineer at BAM Ritchies, currently provides technical support for multiple sites as well as acting as a Site Engineer when required. Part of her current focus is using technology 3D/4D to help highlight a project’s potential problems and help devise solutions. Emily communicates these challenges to clients or sometimes the public, who are not necessarily trained in geotechnical engineering, which she finds extremely satisfying.

When asked why she chose construction and specifically piling as a career she said: “I have always questioned the world around me, especially the processes that formed our natural wonders and how humankind adapts to the world’s varied environments and utilises its resources. This desire to understand the world we live in led me to take maths and science based subjects at school, which inspired me to study for a degree in Applied Geology, and then an MSc. in Applied Geotechnics. My degree was resource focused and encouraged me to question geology from a different angle, the impacts ground engineering has on the environment, people and communities. In ground engineering, new challenges arise on a daily basis and I enjoy working with the team to solve them.

Furthermore, with technology advancing so rapidly, Geotechnical Engineering is an exciting, innovative industry to be part of. Geotechnics is becoming increasingly sophisticated and I look forward to developing my career and contributing to the future of this exciting industry, meeting and balancing the needs of society whilst protecting our environment.”

Emily’s route into piling wasn’t easy, but she was aware of the challenges; “Nothing worth having should be easy. Part of my Masters degree involved studying in multiple universities across Europe. This was a bit of a culture shock but one of the most rewarding experiences. Meeting people from all different walks of life but with some common interest in the industry was great. Being an international student for some modules showed how diversity can help problem solving. Putting a diverse mixture of people together to solve problems can be challenging to your own perceptions but if you are part of a group of people who are willing to adapt this is where the more creative ideas can take flight.

I currently work within a great team of people who allow me to learn and improve and who listen to one another. I have used every opportunity I have been given to gain more awareness and to expand my own thinking and the thoughts of others. I am firm believer that a lot of barriers can be broken down by communication and seeking to understand other points of view. Some of the best innovation on site comes from the people directly involved in completing the task.”

Emily continued saying: “Being in geotechnical engineering has allowed me to be a part of some amazing challenges in multiple sectors which include transport, marine environments and mines. Ground engineering truly opens the door to multiple challenges and variety. Each project has its own trials and triumphs. No two days are the same! Being in ground engineering has shown me how I can directly contribute to society through engineering projects by helping people in there day to day lives and by helping build a better future.”

More and more women are looking to enter the construction sector and Emily offers the following advice: “Being in the industry is not necessarily the easiest career choice to take, but I find it incredibly rewarding and certainly do not regret making the decision. If I told myself during school what I would be doing now as a career I wouldn’t have believed it. If you wish to be challenged and to be part of a team being in this industry is for you. Take every opportunity you are given to learn and contribute. Being part of the construction industry gives a sense of achievement and pride.”

Personal motivation is one thing, but Emily believes we need to start by catching enthusiasm when it is young, commenting: “If we want to encourage a more diverse work force in the construction industry, we need to start targeting schools. When I was at school I didn’t realise there were jobs like mine out there. The construction industry is so variable and full of different engineering roles that talking about what we do within the industry would let young people know what possibilities are available to them. Also, we need to publicise at school the different routes to becoming part of the construction industry, whether that be through apprentice schemes, college or university.”

Marilena Nicolae, Engineer | Acquisition & Design Department – Bauer Romania
Marilena Nicolae, also an engineer, works within the Acquisition & Design Department at Bauer Romania. She started out as a tender engineer, but is now responsible for tendering, design. She also assists in South-East Europe regional related activities.

The attraction of the construction sector was obvious to Marilena who said: “I chose construction because as a profession, it has the potential to be very satisfying. You start from an idea, an architectural drawing, and when you finish everyone can see a building, a stadium, a bridge, or another type of construction. More excitingly, that construction is operational and safe because you and other engineers have worked on it. A career in piling is even more challenging than that as you cannot see most of your realized works, but you can be confident everything else will last longer because is based on it.”

Like Emily, Marilena did not expect and easy route into construction and commented: “Until recently, I learned that there is no easy way if you want to become a professional. We are talking about construction business; a field in continuous change, offering unique challenges on each project. Today the engineering level reaches ever high standards and there are the new technological developments to embrace. You must always update your knowledge.”

Life in construction is a little more black and white for Marilena who is keen to tress how important it is to know what to expect; “Either you want it and love it, or hate it and leave it; the middle way is not an option in this profession. If you want to succeed, you have to enjoy your work and profession or you will not be happy.”

Marilena is keen to point out how Europe is seeing a wind of change in its ability to attract women into typically male role, but adds there is more to be done. Specifically, “…there’s always something to be improved in any field of activity. These days you can find women on various levels of competencies, starting from office work to top management positions. In Europe, there is a trend of offering equal career chances for women and men, but things can always be done in a better way and there is much progress to be made.”

Marilena’s enthusiasm for construction is obvious and adds: “All civil constructions need a good foundation. Special foundations mean special constructions and it [piling] is therefore a special construction field and no two projects are ever the same. Each and every project has different demand, which may depend on soil conditions and the available solutions and technologies. It’s a dynamic field that never allows you to get bored.”

Sabine Darson, Materials Department Manager – Soletanche Bachy
Sabine Darson has worked for Soletanche Bachy for 14 years as the manager of the Materials Department. This department handles all the issues concerning the materials implemented on site both in France and abroad. She chose construction as a career because: “During my PhD I worked on special slurries for an oil company and I spent 2 months offshore for an ocean drilling programme. I discovered the universe of binders and admixtures, the worksite constraints and a practical approach of the geotechnical materials. Naturally enough I found my position in Soletanche Bachy to lead the Laboratory team.”

“My company provided me all I needed to perform and to adapt my knowledge to the particularities of the foundation works. It was necessary for me to spend time on site to understand the elements which impact the materials, the soil conditions, the equipment, the working methods and the logistics required to optimize the production rate. The expertise of people on site was a great help to be as efficient as possible.”

Her enthusiasm for the foundations sector is clear saying: “First of all, in 14 years I have never done the same thing because every worksite, every country and every material is different. We acquire new skills continuously. Secondly foundations is a dynamic industry with a lot of innovations on design, equipment, materials which provide new challenges. But the most important thing is the personal motivation. If you can see all the possibilities offered by the construction industry, you can build yourself a wonderful career.”
Sabine’s advice to women considering a career in construction is “…don’t be “a woman” but be “a worker”. If your investment is the same as the other people, the integration is easy and you can have a real career. I never felt any obstacle because of my gender. It’s true that this kind of job is demanding, especially because of the site rhythm, and sometimes it’s difficult to manage the private and the professional life. But it’s the same situation for everybody”.

Sabine’s has also noticed how the construction sector has changed to become more accessible than ever to women commenting “…the mentalities have changed over the last 10 years with a stronger women representation. It’s clear that this diversity has to be maintained and reinforced, but on the other hand women must not hesitate to choose this industry whose doors are open to them. Go for it!”

A good conclusion for all women considering a career in constriction and specifically piling – GO FOR IT!!!!

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