The building and construction industry is one of the most important and fast-growing industries in Australia.
It employs more than 1 million people across the country and offers more than 70 employment and career pathways ranging from architects and engineers to tilers and human resources.
6-12 March 2022 is Women in Construction Week.
It is a time to highlight and celebrate the work of women within the industry. Likewise, it is a time that brings to the fore the opportunities that are available to women in construction. Because greater representation of women in construction will benefit everyone in the industry – and the community.
Changing perceptions and celebrating opportunity
It’s essential to cement the role of women in a modern construction industry and celebrate those who are inspiring the next generation to get involved – from getting on the tools to taking seats in the board room.
For this Women in Construction Week, we spoke to Katie O’Brien. Katie is Deputy Project Director on the $1.5 billion New Footscray Hospital Project at the Victorian Health Building Authority (VHBA) and is one of a number of women delivering the state’s largest ever health infrastructure investment.
Katie O'Brien, Deputy Project Director on the New Footscray Hospital Project
Can you tell me about the New Footscray Hospital Project and your role in making the $1.5 billion project a reality?
‘At $1.5 billion, the New Footscray Hospital Project is the largest health infrastructure investment in Victoria’s history. From the time of business case development to contract close, the project team at the Victorian Health Building Authority (VHBA) comprised approximately 75 per cent women.
‘I joined VHBA in March 2018 as Transaction Lead for the project. In this role I was part of a multidisciplinary team that worked from business case through to contract close. This included overseeing the detailed procurement process for the project as a public private partnership under the Partnerships Victoria policy.
‘Now that shovels are in the ground, I’ve transitioned to the role of Deputy Project Director. My role involves working with the Project Director to oversee the delivery of the overall project with a particular focus on the legal and commercial aspects of the project as well as supporting the members of our design and technical team and working with delivery partners to ensure the project runs on time and on budget.’
How long have you worked in the construction industry and what compelled you to join?
‘I’ve worked in infrastructure for around eight years. In that time, I’ve worked across a number of projects in the education, transport and health sectors.
‘I was compelled to join the industry to see something big come to life – from end to end - contributing to a legacy that will serve the community for years to come.’
What do you love most about your job?
‘The variety of the work and the people I work with. We’re one team with one dream and that’s to deliver a hospital that’s going to be there for many years to come, saving lives and providing essential healthcare for the community.
‘There are ten tower cranes on the new Footscray Hospital site at the moment. When I drive across the city on my daily commute, I can see the cluster of cranes in the skyline. It’s so encouraging and a great reminder of our shared purpose - and the important work we’re doing for families in the west.’
What does your average week look like?
‘No day is ever the same. And that’s what makes it exciting.
‘We can be out on the new Footscray Hospital construction site in our hard hats and high-vis one day, and the next in an office talking about commercial matters, or working side by side with the doctors, nurses, and support staff who are contributing to the design of their new hospital.’
Why should more women consider a career in construction?
‘There are so many opportunities for women to thrive and grow in the industry. Whether that be in planning, procurement, legal services, programming, architecture and design, quantity surveying, machinery operators or on the tools. The list is endless.
‘The skills you pick up in the industry are so transferable – no matter your role – so the opportunities for upskilling and promotion are plentiful.
‘I have a degree in business and economics and started my career in HR, and here I am today contributing to one of Victoria’s biggest infrastructure projects.’
What advice would you give young girls/ women considering a career in the industry?
‘Say yes. You don’t know what’s possible until you give it a go. There’s so much demand for women in the construction industry. If you have a positive attitude and are willing to learn, I can guarantee there’s an opportunity for you to succeed.’
How important are female voices in the industry?
‘Diversity of voices and perspectives is so important because it leads to better outcomes for the community.
‘In the workplace, having strong female voices inspires and instils confidence in the next generation of women to put their hand up to take on projects or roles that might be out of their comfort zone.’
Can you tell me about some of the women you’ve worked with throughout your career - how have they inspired you?
‘I’m very fortunate to have worked with a number of inspiring women throughout my career and who are now leading some of the biggest infrastructure projects in the state. They are paving the way for the next generation of women in the construction industry and showing anything is possible.
‘It’s also really inspiring seeing women at the top of their game set boundaries for work, life and family balance. It’s changing the culture of the industry for the better and rubbing off onto our male colleagues too!’
‘In March 2021, construction got underway on the new Footscray Hospital. It was the culmination of three years of planning, consultation, and community engagement led by a mostly female team. It was a big moment for us and one that I will look back on proudly for years to come.’
About the New Footscray Hospital
The Victorian Government has provided up to $1.5 billion to deliver a new Footscray Hospital – the largest ever health infrastructure investment in the state.
Located on the corner of Geelong and Ballarat Roads, the new Footscray Hospital will support the increasing demand from Melbourne’s booming western suburbs, ensuring families can get the care they need close to home.
Building a bigger and better Footscray Hospital will cut wait times and reduce pressure on nearby hospitals. With an increase of nearly 200 beds, the new hospital will treat approximately 15,000 additional patients and enable around 20,000 additional people to be seen by the emergency department each year.
Since construction got underway in March last year, about 330,000 cubic metres of dirt and rock have been removed from the site as part of work to build the underground carpark and ground floor.
An impressive 36,000 tonnes of concrete have been poured on the site. Once complete, approximately 150,000 tonnes of concrete will have been used – that’s about 25 Olympic swimming pools’ worth.
The hospital is expected to open in 2025.
To find out more about the New Footscray Hospital visit our dedicated project page.
Building gender equality
The Victorian Government is committed to achieving gender equality in the workplace. In December 2016 it launched the state’s first gender equality strategy (GES), Safe and Strong: A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy.
To take further steps to implement the GES, the Victorian Government announced in June 2018 that it was developing Victoria’s Women in Construction Strategy, in partnership with the Building Industry Consultative Council (BICC).
The strategy outlines the steps that need to be taken to attract, recruit and retain female workers in the construction industry so that one day there will be equal numbers of men and women working in construction.
Building Equality Policy
In December 2021 the Victorian Government announced an Australia-first Building Equality Policy (BEP).
Disrupting gender stereotypes, the BEP applies to new government projects and mandates female representation in at least three per cent of each trade role, seven per cent of each non-trade position and 35 per cent of management, supervisor and specialist labour roles.
Coming into effect from 1 January 2022, the BEP also mandates that four per cent of labour hours for apprentices and trainees will be required to be performed by women.
About the Victorian Health Building Authority
At the Victorian Health Building Authority, we have $9.21 billion of projects in planning and delivery and $16.6 billion in managed assets. Our pipeline of over 127 projects will support thousands of jobs at the peak of construction – supporting Victoria’s economic recovery for years to come.
We have 294 staff, with more than half identifying as female and 41 per cent in team leadership roles.
If you are passionate about public health and interested in contributing to the planning, design and delivery of world-class health infrastructure, then we want to hear from you. Learn more about our organisation via our careers page and follow VHBA on LinkedIn for job ads and updates.
Last updated: 08 March 2022
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