Harriet Kirk, winner of Engineer of the Year Award and Grahame Carter, Head of Infrastructure, Matchtech

This year’s Women in Construction Awards took place at The Palace Hotel, Manchester. Once again, we were proud to sponsor the Engineer of the Year Award – Civils/Infrastructure category.  After the event we caught up with the winner, Harriet Kirk from Atkins, to find out a bit more about her views on careers in the construction industry.

Why celebrate women in construction?

We need more women in construction, engineering and most other STEM based careers. Women make up 50% of the population – so why aren’t 50% of the construction workforce female?

There’s a lot of potential out there which is going untapped just because girls and women don’t see construction as an option for them. When I left school I’d never really heard of engineering, and certainly never thought I would be an engineer. I feel very lucky to have stumbled across it by accident!

By celebrating the achievements of women in the construction industry and making them more visible, we provide role models for women and girls who otherwise might never consider a technical career.

What has been your career high point?

I’ve done lots of very enjoyable and satisfying things in my career so far; from supervising the installation of the monopile foundations I designed for an offshore wind farm, to designing a solution to reinstate a road closed by a major landslide – and then seeing the road re-opened. I always take satisfaction in providing support and mentoring to junior members of my team; seeing them develop their technical skills is something I particularly enjoy.

I think my real career highlight has to be my contribution to the design and construction of a footbridge in Malawi that now provides rural communities year-round access to schools, markets and healthcare. Completed on a voluntary basis, the project involved lots of challenges including working in a village with no running water or electricity, and supervising a team of workers with no plant or power tools to safely construct the bridge. Despite the hard work it was very rewarding and I believe it really demonstrates the difference that engineers can make to people’s lives.

What makes a career in construction exciting for you?

I really enjoy the variety my career as a geotechnical engineer offers and the opportunities I have to continue learning and developing throughout my career.

Every civil engineering project has to interact with the ground in some way, so I get to work on a wide range of projects, including offshore wind farms and oil rigs, roads and railways. Engineering is all about using analytical skills and past experience to solve problems. Every problem is different, so it’s always challenging and never gets boring! I learn something every day.

Harriet Kirk, Atkins Ltd

Harriet is a senior geotechnical engineer with Atkins and a chartered civil engineer. Harriet’s focus is strongly technical, dealing with difficult design and construction issues for onshore and offshore infrastructure. In her spare time she is involved in low-technology engineering in developing countries, and spent last summer working on footbridge projects in Malawi.

You can view the Engineer of the Year Award – Civils/Infrastructure highlights video here.

Images and video courtesy of Excel Publishing/Women In Construction Awards.

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