As part of the #BuildingEquality 2018 Campaign, Michelle Kelly, EHS Co-Ordinator with Designer Group, shares her story as a woman in construction.
I finished school at 16 and it took me a while to decide what I wanted to do. On my 18th birthday, I started my electrical apprenticeship. I was torn between doing electrical or woodwork, but there was more work as an electrician, so I decided to go with that.
That’s about 16 years ago now. I qualified just before the downturn and went into estimating then. I have worked for a few construction companies, but I decided that I didn’t want to be 40 years of age on the tools, so I went into document control and site administration with a bit of health and safety on the side.
I am now Environmental Health and Safety Co-Ordinator with Designer Group. I did four or five years as an electrician, I served my time with Mercury Engineering and there was a few girls on site which was great. When you had more than one female on site, it wasn’t as daunting. The men were great though, they treat you really well. I had a few male co-workers that treated me like a daughter and really helped me with my training. But most of the time you go onto a construction site and 99% of the people working with you are men, any women who are on site are safety officers or admin or they are the women serving you your breakfast roll.
It’s unusual to see women in their Snickers actually doing the onsite work, but there are a few out there and because Ireland is so small you will bump into them from time to time. As the industry modernises there are more and more roles out there and more women coming into the industry, which is fantastic.
When I was a Sparks, I met a few females there, a plumber, a couple of chippies, a French polisher, a lot of female quantity surveyors and health and safety officers. I loved working on the tools and I miss it sometimes too, but as long as I am in construction I am happy.
I have done a lot of work on my house because of my background, which is great. I don’t need to ring anyone, I can do it myself. I think women have a better mind for finer details. We have a lot of women working in Designer Group now and it’s great to see. Women are much more welcomed into the construction industry now. We are trying to encourage more women into our company by getting out into the schools and talking to young people.
When I was an electrician, I was always reminded that if you qualified and wanted to go on to engineering afterward, you can and you can start in year two of the course. I think it’s really important for young people to know that you can start your apprenticeship and start earning money straight away, and then go on to something else once you are qualified if you like. I went to a mixed school so I had the option of taking classes in metalwork and woodwork, whereas I may not have had these opportunities in an all-girls school.
I think we need to make sure that girls have these options from a very early age, so they are not put off construction. If girls don’t have the opportunities to do these classes, then they will never know if they enjoy them or not. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to do something with my hands because I had that opportunity.
To learn more about the #BuildingEquality campaign and to share your own story, please visit our dedicated page here