- Favourite school subjects
- First full-time job
- What sparked your interest in a construction career?
I have a Bachelor of Civil Engineering and Commerce from UNSW.
I signed up for vacation program internships over the summer break and worked full-time for three months. My first internship was at Snowy Hydro, where I got to learn about their built assets—dams and water works and stuff like that. It was great!
I hadn't figured out exactly what I wanted when I left school. I decided to do engineering because it leaves you a lot of options and I chose civil because I like things that I can touch and see - once you've built it, it's there to see.
“Having more women makes it more desirable for other women to join, because you're no longer an outlier. You're just going to be one amongst many and that’s a really good and positive thing.” - Alice on women joining the construction industry.
Can you tell us about your current job?
I’m in the last year of our grad program on my second rotation. I started in the services team, and now I'm with the fit-out team, still on the same project but getting exposure to different elements of the build. The three main things that we do are time, cost and quality. It’s a balancing act!
What does a typical day look like?
Review the project program. When you're out on site you've got to talk to everyone, to all your contractors to find out what their plans for the day and any issues they’ve run into. You record this this information and return to the office.
I start the follow up paperwork and send design queries to the architects or look up drawings, which can take a few hours.
Head back out on site. In that time, I would do a detailed track check of a specific drawing. I did a lot of wall closures and would check if all the items are installed as per the drawings and then make a big markup of everything that's not been installed.
I return to the office at about 3pm and then send that all out to all the trades, so they've all got it digitally and then say they've got to achieve the closing out issues on site by a certain date. At the end of the day, I'd probably make sure that everything's tidy. I’d finish the day by doing commercials that are urgent, like assessing any claims,
Getting things to happen on time. Working through problems that mean things aren't happening on time, that's probably the most challenging, because there's always something going on that's not as expected. You can plan as much as you like, but at the end of the day, it all just goes as it will. You've got to figure it out at the time.
Communication is probably number one on the list, because that's what we do all day. We do a lot of problem solving however that is only effective if you can communicate the issues to all the involved parties. You've also got to be able to organize yourself and the people around you. Being really organised is a great trait, as is resilience because things can go wrong on a building site. When this happens, you've got to be able to take it on the chin and keep going.
It's a fast-paced environment, and people spend a lot of time here. You’ve got to be able to bounce back anytime that things go wrong. There's always a lot of people who have differing opinions and it’s important to remember you're never going to have everyone happy. You also need to prioritise attention to detail as well for my job, because mistakes can potentially be costly.
"There are huge opportunities in construction – we’re missing half of the people who could be here." - Alice on diversity in the construction industry.
What’s changed, changing, or coming soon to make construction an industry of choice?
Working with other women is essential and I think that more and more companies are getting women onboard. Increasing the number of women makes it more desirable for other women to join, because you're no longer an outlier. You're just going to be one amongst many and that’s a really good and positive thing.
I think it changes and adds to the diverse ways of thinking we need in this industry. It's about diversity and what a diverse workforce can bring to the workplace and the work we do. It's a good thing to have multiple people thinking about a problem from different perspectives. Construction is a lot about the end user. And if you don't have around half of the population potentially available to build things, you're not going to have the infrastructure produced for all the end users who want it. We need lots of opinions and different ways of doing things.
I do have a mentor in the company who I got allocated to at the start of the year. And she works on a different project to me. She's a senior project engineer, which is two levels above me. We meet up maybe once a month and she provides me with big picture career advice. She also gives me a lot of advice on things that you don't necessarily know if you've only been on one project. She has that overarching knowledge of the industry and has supported me in navigating my career path.
More specifically to my site, my senior project engineer catches up with me for coffee every fortnight. We discuss how I'm progressing in my current role, what I need help with, and what I'm really looking to get out of what I'm doing now. It's about what I'm planning for, what I'm thinking about, if I have any problems. He really helps me with these questions and makes me feel supported in my role.
It's going to be something that my foreman said to me. He said, and this is probably the best advice, "You're under pressure, you're not stressed," something like that. And I go "Oh yeah" with a smile. When I first got here, every time that something happened, I just stress out and he says "No, just because you're getting a bit of pressure doesn't mean that it's stress, cause you're always under pressure in construction, there's always someone telling you to go faster, go to cheaper, to go everything, so you've just got to take it as you go".
What do good construction employers do?
I think there are three things:
- A safe workplace - I would be extremely hesitant to work for any company that wasn't having that as their number one priority.
- They foster a progressive culture with the flexibility to have a life outside of it.
- They value their employees.
What’s next careerwise? And, in the longer term?
I'll finish the graduate program in February and then become a site engineer. There's a clear progression path for people on-site. So, it basically goes site engineer, project engineer, senior project engineer, and then construction manager, and I could certainly do that. There are other things in the company that you can do too.
The look ahead for me would be progressing up the ladder and becoming more senior in my current career path. There's certainly heaps of room to move and grow and I'm happy to take opportunities that come my way.
If I become a construction manager, and go that path, you would run your own project and I think that would be a real crowning achievement to have managed a whole project from start to finish and be able to step back and genuinely say, I built that.
I was traveling back from home the other day. And, as the plane flew into Sydney at around seven o'clock in the morning, I could see our building through the window. And here I was, going to work seeing the building thinking, "Man, this is very cool, this is where I work".
For a defining project, I’m thinking that a major construction project. I'm from down south, where they’re building the Snowy 2.0, a multibillion-dollar project near my hometown. And it's going to influence the whole region and so much else. I'm not sure whether it's in my future because it's getting built right now. However, it would be terrific to be involved!
So, if Snowy Hydro 3.0 happens, sign me up! Or anything down there. Even if my small town built a hospital, for example, then that would be something that I would be super proud to work on.
Bethany works as a Apprentice at the Martin Place Metro station. She started her career in the construction industry by studying wall and ceiling lining at TAFE NSW. We asked Bethany questions about her pathway into the construction industry and experiences working on site.
Jessica works as a Project Engineer at the Randwick Campus Redevelopment. She started her career in the construction industry by studying Civil Engineering with Honours at the University of Wollongong. We asked Jessica questions about her pathway into the construction industry and experiences working on site.