We are raising the profile of the women who make Van Elle a successful business and a great place to work, as we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day today, June 23.
Construction, as we all know, is traditionally a male dominated industry. Here at Van Elle, we believe that no one should be held back from working in a role they are passionate about, because of their gender, race, religion or sexuality.
This week, we asked our female workforce to share with us their experiences of working in the sector and for their advice about how we continue to attract, retain and champion them.
Here is what they had to say…
Business Development Manager
- Business Development Manager for Highways and Piling, Jan started her career as a reporter in Scotland working for Thomson Newspapers, but after writing a story on an architectural firm she said her mind was ‘opened to what was going on in the construction industry’.
She was later hired for a business development role by one of the very same architects she interviewed. After a year she went on to join Gleeds London and later Keltbray, picking up ten years of experience at each before joining Van Elle two years ago.
Keen to inspire the future generation of young women contemplating the engineering industry, Jan is due to take part in a panel discussion with female students from the UTC of Durham, along with other representatives from Costain and Jacobs tomorrow, Thursday, June 24.
She said: “I’m looking forward to taking part in the discussion to the young women engineers at the college and to give them an overview about what it is like to work within the construction and engineering industry.
“A lot of women shy away from engineering and construction, and in particular construction sites because they see it as too male dominated.
“I’ve been in the industry 20 years, it is predominantly male dominated, however it has changed so much from when I started, and all for the better.
“There are a lot more women out there who are doing absolutely fantastic jobs in our industry.
“It can be a very rewarding career path for women and I hope today can inspire more women to consider a future in construction.
“Earlier this year, Van Elle took part in a virtual Teams meeting with more than 60 students from Walsall College. Walsall is an all construction trades college.
“Myself and two other colleagues were delighted to speak to students about our work at University of Birmingham Station, which required the installation of technically challenging foundations, we also explained where the foundation piling aspect of work fits within the construction phase and what it takes to become a piling engineer.
“I think it is really important to try to inspire these 17 to 19-year-olds, to help give them a better understanding of some of the roles they can consider in engineering and construction.”
Jan is an active EDI Ambassador and part of the EDI Working Group helping to implement the five-year strategy across the Van Elle Group.
Part of her interest lies in encouraging more women to take roles in engineering, whether as engineers or across the many essential support roles a company like Van Elle offers.
- Paula, a Testing Engineers for Strata Geotechnics, Van Elle’s ground investigation specialists, started her engineering career just over five years ago.
She now travels all over the UK to conduct important integrity testing on installed concrete piles after she received on-site training with Van Elle.
She said: “There are a lot of women out there who have never known what they wanted to do. Never had the opportunity to even consider engineering. Women should be encouraged to try anything they would like to try.
“I’m in my 40s and when I went to school in mining village in Yorkshire, women were only really encouraged to cook and marry a miner.
“But I actually didn’t listen and took motor vehicle tech, woodwork and electronics – all the ‘boy’ things.
“One of my family members worked for Van Elle and told me there might be a job so I jumped at the opportunity, and after an interview I was hired and trained in the role.
“It can be intense going out onto a big busy construction site for the first time, but I found that I enjoyed it.
“Now, I test the integrity of all types of concrete piles, including CFA and OHA, across the UK.
“Through my testing I can highlight cracks in piles, see if concrete has been washed away by unknown services, creating anomalies and I can also verify if the auger has gotten stuck during the drill process.”
Eugenia Polo Pascual
Estimating and Design Engineer
Ground Improvement Director
- As an Estimating and Design Engineer for Van Elle’s Housing division, Eugenia focuses and creates the designs for Smartfoot, Van Elle’s high-quality factory-produced precast modular foundation system.
Eugenia joined the company almost five years ago to begin her engineering career.
Eugenia took Building and Engineering while at university in Spain, where she found that a lot of her fellow female students would drop out before their degree finished.
She said: “I enjoy working in engineering, I always found it amazing how a drawing of a building can become reality, I always wanted to learn how to do it.
“When I started my degree in Spain there was a 50/50 gender split, but by the time we were doing our dissertations it was 80 percent men.
“Many of my fellow female students started to feel the challenges they might face in the future if they progressed with a career in construction and didn’t think they were capable of doing it, so they found other careers.
“It is not always easy to promote a job to a young woman when you know what you are going to find on site as we are often questioned about our decisions. But you can find people who are like that everywhere, it isn’t just in engineering.
“Which is why we should focus more on training people in the industry to understand that women are just as capable as men.
“I think part of the reason women don’t think that they are capable is that we struggle to find a role model in the industry, to help push them over the final line and see that they can succeed.”
- Van Elle’s Ground Improvement Director, joined two-years-ago to personally build the ground improvement team ‘from the ground up’.
Now managing a team of 17, on-site and in the office, together they deliver a range of ground improvement techniques including vibro stone columns and rigid inclusions.
She said: “The industry has made leaps and bounds since I joined 18 years ago.
“When I started my career there was no personal protective equipment specifically for women and no female toilets on site, now, obviously that isn’t the case.
“After I took a geology degree at Manchester University, I wanted to make sure I had a related career that I was passionate about.
“I started off as an estimator for ground improvement company Pennine, later acquired by Balfour Beaty. I learnt about bidding work and learnt more about ground conditions and risks on site.
“I have been at Van Elle for two years now, I was brought on board to set up the ground improvement division and to start securing work.
“I have taken it from zero to a team of people securing millions-of-pounds worth of tenders a year.
“It is important to see women as directors and even CEOs of engineering and construction companies so young women can see a role model and have something to aspire to.
“The more female engineers we have working in the industry the more we demonstrate that any woman can do any job.
“Once we get over that hurdle, women won’t have to face gender discrimination within the workplace.
“That is why it is so important to encourage women, who are passionate about engineering, to join the industry.”
- Lucy, one of Van Elle’s Senior Estimators, works within the preconstruction department as an estimator and prices Housing and Specialist Piling works within Scotland.
Working her way through the ranks, Lucy started as an office junior in a construction firm, before gaining experience in the running of a precast concrete pile manufacturing factory and later asked to become an estimator because of her knowledge of the industry.
Lucy, who joined the company two years ago, reviews drawings, pile positions and meterage to develop piling estimates for piling and beam works.
She said: “I have been in the industry for more than 30 years and I have worked my way through the ranks, doing everything from making tea to pricing multi-million-pound jobs.
“I wouldn’t say that it is an easy or simple career path for a woman to choose but it is rewarding, I really think more women should go into the industry.
“Support for women to advance within the industry used to come from other women.
“They shared similar experiences and were keen for you to succeed, however this has changed over the years with support no longer just coming from other woman.”
- As Training Administrator for Van Elle’s Training and Assessments team at the purpose-built training facility in Nottinghamshire, Keeley fills gaps in the workforce’s knowledge and skills through relevant training and qualifications.
She said: “I’ve done a few courses myself at Van Elle including HR, First Aid and Fire and Mental Health First Aid training this year.
“It is really important to train the workforce so they are constantly upskilled and can do their jobs effectively.
“At the training centre we provide a really broad range of training, from asbestos awareness and CPCS/NPORS plant machinery through to NVQ level 7.
“We have a new e-learning platform launching this month where we track all training and deliver training content.
“Working with our divisions, we’ve identified mandatory training courses for our supervisors, operators and operatives to make sure they are all working safely and compliantly.
“I evaluate each new employee to see what qualifications they have and book in the further training and qualifications they will need.
“The company has changed since I started seven years ago, there are now more women working within the company and a larger team and purpose-built centre to train the workforce.
“I think sometimes people are put off coming into a male dominated industry. But it is always great to continuously promote women working within engineering and geotechnics.”