Working as an integrated team in partnership with civil engineering consultants Curtins and specialist HybriDfMA structural frame contractor PCE, Kier has brought together three precast manufacturers and six factories across the country to collaboratively deliver the new build prison at Wellingborough. Through a series of blog posts, we are showcasing each business’ unique expertise and perspective on the project.

Aleksandra Wieczorkiewicz is Team Leader at Curtins. Here, she talks about the diverse career opportunities available within civil engineering and the exciting roles being undertaken by the women in her team on the Wellingborough project.

“My career compass point was set a long time ago, as early as a teenage girl learning mathematics and physics in high school. I always wanted to create something real, tangible and challenging. From my early days I liked the idea of designing and building structures and this has led to where I am today, solving engineering challenges daily which gives me great satisfaction.

Whilst at university, it didn't strike me that there were significantly more male than female students in my year. It was only when I started working in the industry that it hit me. But rather than get disheartened, I quickly realised that I didn’t need to see this as a disadvantage – I had the same technical skills and tools as my male colleagues.

I have now worked in the industry for the last 15 years. I joined Curtins in 2007 where at times I was the only female technical employee in the London office. Things have significantly changed since then with over half my team, the Wellingborough team, being women. Curtins is recognised across the industry as a leader in pursuit of change in a sector lagging with respect to gender equality. Led by our innovative and determined CEO Rob Melling, we deliver targeted actions within the business, the engineering industry, in schools, universities and colleges – all with the aim of achieving greater diversity.

Our approach is no more evident than with our precast concrete engineering team for the new build prison at Wellingborough, which is primarily lead by women. At Wellingborough, I manage and marshal the team to ensure we deliver the project on time and on budget. Curtins has been employed as the structural engineer to design the seven house blocks, the Care and Support Unit (CASU) building and the entrance building. In addition to this we worked for PCE to produce all the precast concrete fabrication drawings. The project was quite challenging with respect to the programme and the full coordination with the design team.

Eleonora Rocci is our project manager at Wellingborough. Her role involves managing the key interfaces with Kier, Pick Everard Architects and PCE, ensuring a joined-up collaborative approach. She also manages panel delivery and resources. Eleonora’s first priority was understanding what the project needed to deliver and this involved having the right team in place to produce the right information within the agreed time scale to be fabricated and delivered on site before being erected. This required patience and determination to see it through which Eleonora provided. This mindset helped to deliver the project according to plan.

Louise Rice is design engineer for the project. Louise has developed the structural calculations for the precast concrete frame and sub-structure. She is also the lead checking engineer, ensuring that the outputs adhere to the design. Louise used her technical skills to analyse the precast structure, which involved the calculation of the load take down and the design of the structural members to establish the size and the reinforcement required, as well as providing support to the junior engineers working under her.

Although increasingly more females are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, female engineers in the UK still only make up 12% of the engineering population. This profession is not easy and requires a lot of hard work and determination. However, the reward that can be achieved from this career is worthwhile because you ultimately help to create facilities that are valuable to the people who use them and last for many years.

Misconceptions about engineering can put women off a career in the industry, however if you like solving problems, have good communication skills, good sketching skills and imagination, these are all talents which will stand you in good stead for a great career in engineering. We need a variety of people entering the industry to boost our diversity so that we can have a wider range of ideas and input on how to solve the engineering problems of the future. By using a mixed-gendered team at the new build prison at Wellingborough, we have seen worthwhile results – it’s time the industry followed suit.”

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