‘There are a lot of opportunities for us to excel’

For Flor De Jesus, the thought of becoming an engineer never crossed her mind while she was growing up. It was her parents who had a hand in helping her decide on the career path. “At that time, my older brother was studying civil engineering and in order for us to save costs on buying books, my parents wanted me to enrol in the same course,” Flor recalls.

Fortunately, Flor enjoys her profession as an engineer, which enables her to make positive impacts on people’s lives and on society as a whole. “I feel this has been the right career for me ever since I started working.”

Based in Manila, the Philippines, Flor is now a senior structural engineer and project design coordinator at SMEC, working on various infrastructure developments across the country.

“I am inspired by some of the designs I was involved in for key projects. I consider the construction supervision projects I was part of, such as the North Luzon Expressway Segment 10 and Connector Road, to be among my monumental achievements, which I am proud of and can tell my children about my contribution to the developments.”

As a structural engineer, Flor feels a great sense of fulfilment knowing that she has played a significant role in ensuring the integrity of the projects she took part in, and that “they will last and withstand the stresses and pressures from human use and environmental conditions.”

She adds that “being in the SMEC team and able to deliver projects that benefit a lot of people gives me the satisfaction that, in my own small way, I am contributing to the progress of my country.”

With the construction industry undergoing a transformation over the years, Flor has also witnessed first-hand the advancement of bridge-building methods. “When I first started in bridge design in the 1980s, we only used precast concrete piles for foundations. Today, bored pile foundations are very common,” she shares.

“For the superstructures, bridge projects now adopt precast beams (pre- and post-tensioned) to simplify the construction process. Another new technique is the rotating pier head, aimed at minimising traffic during construction of the coping beam.”

‘Our characteristics serve us well in this field’

Engineers are no strangers to working long hours at construction sites – until late at night or even the next morning – when necessary to meet project deadlines.

“Overcoming the initial perception that men could do a better job than women is not that difficult once you have shown your competence to perform well in your role.”

She acknowledges that support from her employer also makes an important difference. “I’m very fortunate that SMEC is passionate about gender balance in the workplace, which has given me all the opportunities to succeed, whether I’m assigned to the office or working on site.”

While the construction industry continues to be male-dominated, Flor believes that it has matured and outgrown the bias towards women. “Employers are increasingly putting more emphasis on the technical knowledge and skills an individual possesses rather than selecting candidates based on gender to fill vacancies.”

Flor encourages women to join the construction industry, “as it offers a lot of opportunities for us to excel,” she says. One of the benefits is the prospect of “being your own boss in the future, such as establishing your own small construction firm. You can start from building houses – for example, one to two storeys - or taking on a subcontracting role for condominium projects, such as building ceilings, walls and partitions.”

She believes that women can succeed in the construction industry. “Many of our characteristics serve us well and help us to thrive in this field!”

Photos courtesy of Flor De Jesus