The world is your oyster if you want it to be

Author: Katie Swanick, Site Agent

I came into civil engineering – and Costain – as a result of going to a conference organised by CITB at the end of my GCSEs. We had a family friend who was an architect, so I had always known about the industry; I just wasn’t aware of all the opportunities available to me.

The conference included site visits, and mine was to a Costain project. With the atmosphere on site and seeing the critical infrastructure being built by the team, I knew civil engineering was for me. Following conversations about my career aspirations, the company offered me some work experience. I followed it up and got more work experience in my holidays while I was taking my A’Levels. Costain sponsored me through university, and I have been here ever since – for the last eight years working my way up from graduate engineer to now, site agent.

That CITB conference was soley focused on women, so at that stage I wasn’t conscious at all that there were so few women in civil engineering. I didn’t regard it as a big issue until I was doing my work experience, and then I was very much aware of the massive percentage difference between men and women.

Then, when I started working full time, it became obvious to me that there weren’t very many women in the industry; but I didn’t feel discriminated against and I have never let it be an issue.

I feel that civil engineering is a vocation, and you don’t embark on it without knowing what’s involved. Once you’ve made that career choice, you should be aware that there aren’t as many women as you’d like – but you shouldn’t get special treatment.

Having said that, I mentor a couple of female graduates, and I think it’s good for more experienced women in the industry to be available to the younger ones coming through. I am currently working on the A556 Knutsford to Bowdon improvement scheme, with a female project manager, Rachel Ellison. There is quite a large female team – both operational and commercial staff – and it does Provide you with a network of women that are there to support you, should you need or want it – it does make a difference compared to other projects I have worked on.

I really do believe however, that where the work really needs to be done is in schools and colleges to encourage more young women to come into the industry. I want to do as much as I can to ensure that young women are aware of the opportunities around civil engineering.

Following previous school visits, there appears to still be a stereotype around civil engineering as “bricklayers” or “people who pour concrete”, but I try to get across that it’s not just hard hats and getting muddy every day – although it can be if you want it to.

My advice to any young women coming into the industry is to explore the multitude of opportunities that are available to you.

Although I embarked on my career as a civil engineer improving the North West water infrastructure, I have since worked on a bridge viaduct strengthening project, Crossrail – a high capacity railway for London, the largest smart motorway scheme in the UK and now the A556. During this time I achieved Chartered status, was part of the Costain Future Leaders programme and have implemented the use of mobile technology on construction sites. The World is your oyster if you want it to be…. just grab the opportunity with both hands and run with it!


Katie's blog was published to inspire more women into engineering in support of National Women in Engineering Day - 23 June 2016

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