My name is Etienne Hodge, I am 26 years old, and I work for one of the leading construction companies in the UK, Galliford Try. I am a Graduate Site Engineer for Galliford Try with a M.Sc in Project Management, a BA (Hons) in Business Management, as well as a love and passion for planning and construction. I am inspired by the thought of developing something monumental out of nothing and creating a tangible entity that I can look back on and proudly say that I was a part of. The built environment has endless opportunities and I believe women have so much to bring to the industry.
"Working in infrastructure allows you to enhance and develop communities, cities, and local businesses. You can provide a better way of living through easier and simpler road and building development, away from urban homes to more rural areas, reducing congestion, disruption and delays."
I have been working within construction for 18 months now. I currently work in infrastructure as part of the Highways team as a site engineer. I use technology and precision instruments - such as the Total Station and GPS technology - to pinpoint and mark areas above and below ground level. I can do this through using specific coordinates measured against the ordnance datum for a universal measurement. I am involved in the setting out of various aspects of the project, such as but not limited to, drainage, kerbs, ducting chambers and road construction. I had been trying to get into the industry since graduating from Nottingham Trent University in December 2019 and after 7 months of independent training, I started my position in September 2020. I could not be happier that I’m finally making my difference to help change the narrative within construction.
What route did you take to becoming a Site Engineer?
I first completed a BA Honours degree in Business Management, as I knew that I wanted to be in the corporate world planning and organising - though I was open to any sector at this point. In my third year at university, I fell in love with project planning and control and took this forward to complete a Masters degree in Project Management.
Through my Masters degree, I was fortunate enough to experience site tours at Bentley Project Management and Woodhead Construction. These amazing experiences made me appreciate the colossal amount of planning, risk assessments and resilience it takes to perform end-to-end project excellence. After graduating, it took me 7 months to build my experience, take courses and complete two CSCS cards before I started my career in September 2020.
“The built environment has endless opportunities to grow and develop cities through the enhancement of infrastructure, innovative technology and collaborative working”
What made you want to become a Site Engineer? Did you always know what you wanted to do?
When I was growing up, I had a passion for event planning and envisioned I would be either an event host or wedding planner. However, after spending many nights as a waitress in hospitality, I knew that sector was not for me - that being said, planning and organising was still a huge passion of mine. In my third year of my undergraduate degree, I fell in love with Project Management and decided to take it further and complete a Masters degree in the subject, where I was introduced to the possibility of entering the construction industry.
Throughout my Masters degree, I visited various construction sites - with some highly respected companies - who showed us the avenues and career paths construction had to offer. Having this experience showed me that construction was the path for me. After applying rigorously through university, I was not successful in finding a position in construction at first, as I lacked the experience. So, I took 7 months to build my experience, complete courses and achieve my CSCS card. Along the way, I joined the ‘Women in Construction’ scheme with Nottingham City Homes, who introduced me to senior women in construction. This encouraged me to continue my quest into construction and showed me that women have a place in this sector. Now, 18 months down the line, I am very happy and proud to call myself a Graduate Site Engineer.
How does your work affect people’s lives and the world around us?
Working in infrastructure allows you to enhance and develop communities, cities, and local businesses. You can provide a better way of living through easier and simpler road construction and building developments, away from urban homes to more rural areas, reducing congestion, disruption and delays.
The project I am currently working on, Grantham Southern Relief Road Phase 2, contributes to the expansion of Grantham, England, by constructing four new slip roads that will connect the A1 truck road to the B1174. I am so proud that my engineering work, will directly contribute to creating a safer, more attractive, and easier accessible Grantham.
What kind of people in other professions do you get to work with within your role?
Due to the nature of my project, I have the privilege of working with people from Highways England (now known as National Highways) and Lincolnshire County Council (LCC). LCC are the clients for the project, we liaise with them daily with aspects such as, design queries, quality control and documentation sign off. Highways England (National Highways) will be the adopting authority of the slip roads after the project is handed over, as they have the autonomy over operating, maintaining, and improving the motorways and major A roads in England. They will be responsible for the maintenance and control of the slip roads going forward and the work we do aligns with a set of standards and specifications set by Highways England (National Highways).
Additional to those professions, I get to work with the design company WSP and various talented subcontractors, who perform duties such as kerbing, street lighting, earthworks, tarmac surfacing, underground drainage, deep drainage and surface water drainage. Being able to work with different subcontractors opens up the pathway for additional opportunities, skills and relationships, which is a huge benefit for my career.
As a Site Engineer for Galliford Try, what does a typical day at work look like for you?
So typically for me, my days start at 7am. Between 7am and 7:30am I grab a cup of tea, check my emails and then change into my PPE. At 7:30am we have a daily team meeting which covers safety on site, quality management and quality inspection slots. It also addresses the work that was completed the previous day and highlights the work that is programmed for that current day. After the meeting, my senior engineer delegates any additional tasks and information specific to my section, before I leave to go out on site for around 8am.
Once on site, I will liaise with the subcontractor I will be engineering for, to ensure we have a collaborative action plan for the day. Throughout the day, check sheets are completed, and quality inspections take place between ourselves, Highways England and Lincolnshire Country Council to ensure works are going as planned and to specification. At the end of the day a diary record is taken of the subcontractor’s activities for the day.
What's one of your biggest challenges?
I think one of my biggest challenges is overcoming self-belief sometimes - as there are not many people that look like me in my profession, I have often found myself questioning my abilities. I think it boils down to imposter syndrome, where I think that I am not qualified enough to be in my position and that one day they are going to realise and fire me.
To overcome this unconscious fear, I record all my progress at work, so on the days where I feel myself having anxiety, I can look at it and reassure myself that I am the right person for the job. I have also spoken about this to other colleagues who started in a graduate position like me. They have experienced similar fears, so knowing that I am not alone also helps me overcome it.
The best thing about my role is the way it makes me feel. Being a part of something that I know is going to greatly improve the economy, local businesses and the overall community makes me very proud. The exclusivity of being able to say ‘I was a part of that’ or ‘I help build/develop that’ is an outstanding achievement. If you do something you love, honestly you’ll never work a day in your life”
How do people react when you tell them your job role?
I have found people to be surprised and concerned when I tell them I work on site. They express how much of an achievement it is and are delighted that I have worked so hard to get here. Nevertheless, some people question if I feel comfortable challenging the men I come across and wonder how I gain their respect, as traditionally men within this sector have not had a female site engineer before. This can be challenging when dealing with the older generation, however, I make sure that I am integral and work in an agile manner, so they can trust my authenticity and treat me the same as they would any ‘man’ - that’s all you can do, I think.
What is it like to be a woman working in your area or profession?
Being a woman in construction is still misunderstood by the majority of males, in the respect that they feel I might not be strong enough or understand the ways of working like they do. To overcome this prejudice, I try to learn as much as I can and be the best engineer I can, that way they can’t disregard me, as I add value through my knowledge and experience. Furthermore, I believe the consensus is starting to change for women in construction, I feel empowered to be a woman working on site. I am proud that I am a part of the conversation when it comes to getting more women into construction and changing the narrative that construction is just strictly for men.
Men and women are different, so we are going to bring different skills and attributes to the table. As we begin to enter a more balanced workforce - more open minded to unconscious bias and prejudice - a new generation of men are becoming more susceptible to the idea that women can add value in ways men can’t, which alters the narrative and gives women the opportunity to consider a career in construction.
What advice would you give a young woman thinking about a career in your role?
In my experience, women and men have different ways of thinking, which allows women to bring different ideas, skills and behaviours to the table. This added value is irreplaceable and puts women at an advantage, which they might not have felt many years ago.
I believe any woman that is thinking of a career in construction should go for it, full force!
The diversity and inclusivity a woman will bring to the sector will help improve current practices and methodologies for the better. My advice would be to go and get a CSCS card, so you are safety competent to work on site, and then apply for your dream position. You must be confident in your abilities, because you bring something to the table that is needed, valued and respected.