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An Interview with Diana Veidere

Name: Diana Veidere
Job role: Apprentice Structural Engineer

Diana is an Apprentice Structural Engineer at the Laing O’Rourke Centre of Excellence for Modern Construction, in Nottinghamshire. She joined Laing O’Rourke in 2018 and currently designs precast concrete components for use on Laing O’Rourke projects. We caught up with Diana a few weeks ago and asked her to tell us her story and what it’s like to be a woman in the construction industry.

At 15 I wasn’t completely sure which industry I wanted to go into, but I did know that the idea of an apprenticeship sounded fantastic. It would give me the opportunity to work with professionals in the field from the start of my career alongside having training sponsored by the company and receiving a salary. Engineering in particular struck a chord with me, as I am someone who is resourceful and enjoys finding solutions to complex problems.

After raising this with my career advisor, I was surprised to hear that whilst being predicted As and A*s in my GCSEs, engineering would be completely “unsuitable” for me, and that I should instead look at hair and beauty apprenticeships. This annoyed me but instead of deterring me it spurred me on to become an engineering apprentice.

It’s only because of this decision that, at the age of 19, I have gained a year’s experience of working on site and have spent the last two years working as an apprentice in a structural engineering team. My apprenticeship has also enabled me to secure a place on a 5-year BEng Civil and Infrastructure Engineering degree at the University of Warwick – and my aim is to graduate with a first. So far, my greatest achievement during my apprenticeship is being chosen to receive a Quest Technician Scholarship by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). Achieving this has been a great source of motivation to work towards continuously improving to become a better engineer every day.

For nearly three years now I have been working in the engineering team at Laing O’Rourke’s Centre of Excellence for Modern Construction (formally EIP). My current role involves designing precast elements for various temporary conditions (lifting, handling, transport, temporary works), as well as early design advice on shaping and panelising projects, and some permanent works design. My days are varied, involving; completing calculation packs and answering queries from the shop-floor, doing preliminary checks of unit drawings and assisting with improving team efficiency. Due to the nature of having a technical role, my working day tends to also involve research and learning about structural mechanics and the design of various materials and equipment.

Since February 2020 the pandemic has affected my job role in unexpected ways. Like many, the sudden change in working environment has been a source of frustration. Slow internet, noisy neighbours and having to change methods of work to be completely online has been a challenge. Being on furlough for a couple of months last year gave me a chance to reflect on my role and I realised how much I missed it! Not only do I have the opportunity to be a part of major projects around the UK, but I get to do this within an amazing team. Three years on from joining the industry I am still full of enthusiasm for the work I do so that I can contribute to changing the industry for the better.

Part of the change I want to see in the construction industry is the deployment of more sustainable solutions to a wider range of engineering challenges. If engineers cannot tackle this, I’m not sure who can. But my personal view is our company and the whole sector needs to do more to deliver net zero carbon as soon as possible.  To quote Rachel Skinner, the current president of the ICE: “We can all influence and transform our infrastructure systems and the carbon emissions they produce”. I believe modern methods of construction can help achieve this, and Laing O’Rourke is better positioned than any contractor to demonstrate this. Part of the reason I became a civil engineer is because the role involves addressing human and societal challenges, and for my generation there’s no bigger issue to address than climate change. At a personal level I also do my part by limiting my impact on the environment, but I aim to be involved on a more professional level to advance sustainable construction methods.

Another part of the change I want to see in the industry is its attitude to women (especially women in technical roles) improving. There are clear distinctions between the ways in which men and women in similar roles are treated, and yet it’s an issue which gets shrugged off as though it is a problem of the past. It’s not, and whilst there has been some visible progress (e.g. women being hired for technical roles), more is needed. Whilst this is a notorious issue the industry faces, only modest action has been taken in recent years: “At its current rate it will take 200 years for women to achieve equality in the construction industry [with] 1 in 8 people in construction being women” (GMB union).

This is an issue which I am committed to help address and becoming a STEM ambassador and (COVID willing) help promote apprenticeships will be one of those ways. Long term I am going to continue putting my energy into challenging sexist and outdated attitudes to women; both within the industry and out.
Despite this, becoming an apprentice at Laing O’Rourke has been the best decision I have made and can only encourage anybody considering applying to go for it, and see where it leads. Whilst there are still issues the industry must address, there is a sense of purpose and reward from being part of a team solving complex problems – which is what engineers do!