The changing face of construction – a PERI perspective

Looking as determined and dedicated as their male counterparts, women are becoming more and more visible in hard hats, hi-vis and steel toe cap boots in the construction industry and challenging the status-quo.  With changes in attitude and women taking up not only senior, but a wider variety of roles, we look at the impact one woman is making in construction at PERI.  Eduarda Costa, Senior Formwork Designer, reflects on her journey from Sales Assistant to Senior Designer and her long- term career within the industry.

An unexpected choice

I never imagined myself pursuing a career in construction. My ‘Plan A’ was to follow in my father’s footsteps and so I trained to be a Biology and Geology teacher in my native Portugal. However, when I finished my degree, there simply weren’t enough schools to meet the number of teachers, so I had to choose between temping, or doing something totally different.

I joined PERI, initially as a sales assistant, but I was intrigued to learn more about the fascinating formwork and scaffold products and how the entire construction process came together around them. I completed CAD Design training and was then offered an opportunity to take up a role as a formwork designer, assisting and supporting sales engineers to meet customer expectations. That was 14 years ago and I haven’t looked back since.

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New challenges, new experiences

About 10 years ago, the opportunity to move within PERI from my native Portugal to the UK arose, and there was a noticeable change in construction between the two countries.  I had to pick up the engineering aspects of the role such as forming calculations and then combine this with my knowledge and experience in structural design. Of course, I was ready for the challenge.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the role is that no two days are the same. I am continuously being challenged with new and unique structures, which also means I never stop learning. There’s always something to do, new solutions to discover. Most of the systems I work with are very versatile, so it’s often a question of imagination and reinvention.

As demand continues to grow for high specification projects, it’s important to develop the most efficient solution possible, whatever the desired finish of the final structure. It’s part of our job to manage client expectations and determine what can and cannot be achieved, providing an alternative where possible.

For example, a project requiring architectural finishes usually involves a lot of work that end users of the building may never realise. In many instances, the designer needs to consider non-standard solutions in order to achieve the architect’s vision. This involves a ‘back to first principles’ approach, revising designs and calculations until it all fits together.

It’s satisfying when you’re able to work the equipment around the design requirements and achieve the architect’s expectations.

More than just formwork design

I think it’s really important to enjoy and take pride in what you do. I am proud of all the projects I’ve worked on, but one of my most memorable has to be the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford. It was my first time in a project management role and it’s fair to say, I was presented with some difficult challenges. I had to manage a demanding schedule, working directly with client-side project engineers on one hand and cross-functional teams within PERI on the other.

In this project, each floor featured different shapes and requirements, but the client wanted to reuse as many shutters as possible to reduce the costs of using a full set of panels per floor. Again, we were able to show how flexibility, imagination and creativity combined, delivered the seemingly impossible. I would continuously work on designs and send them to the client and architect for discussion until they were approved.   

I relished the responsibility of working closely with the client to solve on-site challenges, which definitely made the process more efficient. It was also great to visit the site throughout the construction phase and gradually see the project coming together.

I look at the building now and I feel a great sense of pride knowing that I played a part in making the architect’s vision a reality.

Narrowing the gender gap

I think it’s important to look at the industry in the same way as any other. In my opinion, there’s no difference between genders. If you want to be treated equally then you have to do an equal job.

I’m one of two female formwork designers in the regional team of 8 and feel at ease when I come to work every day. I’ve learnt to ask questions that’ll help me to develop and do my job to the best of my ability, instead of shying away. It’s about getting involved and I think if you’re passionate about the industry you can certainly make an impact, regardless of your gender.

I’m definitely an advocate for narrowing the gender gap in the industry and it’s fantastic to see so many companies who share the same ethos today. PERI provide a lot of support and developmental opportunities for new starters joining the business. For example, I mentor assistant formwork designers and prepare them for the next step in their career. It’s another varied aspect of my role which is undeniably rewarding.

Looking ahead

The industry is changing all the time. Expectations are changing. We need the technology to be able to keep up and really provide our clients with high quality drawings, services and solutions. There’s an increasing focus on 3D animations and clients want to visualise a structure before construction even begins. Using 2D drawings alone is just not enough anymore.

I also feel that there needs to be a greater focus on training in the construction sector. If technology is to develop at a faster pace than which it currently is, user skills need to develop at the same time.

Even now, 14 years after taking my first step, I still find the civil engineering sector fascinating. It’s definitely a challenging yet exciting industry to be a part of. I would relish the opportunity to work towards becoming a project manager, not only to design, but to be involved in working on large projects from the onset. I’m excited to see how the industry evolves and I feel that the development of digital can only make it more enticing to others.

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