'Love What You Do' - Women in Construction Q&A
01 Mar 2017
Ann Chia is an Auckland-based Health and Safety Advisor at Site Safe. A former accountant, Ann took the plunge into construction in 2011, when she began work as a project executive in health and safety on a $769 million commercial build in Singapore. We spoke to the multilingual mother-of-two about why she has never looked back.
How did you get into construction?
At the time I was an accountant and I just walked onto a construction site. I was in Singapore and decided I wanted to get into a more challenging career, commercial construction, and at the time I was training to be a health and safety specialist. I believed the best way would be to work on-site rather than just getting training. I walked on to a site to see if they had any job opportunities and they said ‘oh yeah, we actually do’ and that’s how it all started. I just thought I’d give it a go, I’ve got nothing to lose and I’ll just see what they say. They knew that I was an accountant but they still thought that I had the transferable skills and the ability to tackle the problems that they had on-site, so that was it.
What made you want to change careers?
My major was actually in marketing and management but for some reason I always got jobs where I ended up having to work with the figures. Before I finished accounting, I was working with a government department, and doing a lot of internal study and just slowly moving into the industry. I had decided that I didn’t want to do accounting anymore, because every day you are dealing with the same things, and I wanted something that advanced my knowledge and career, and something that can really make a difference and help people.
My Dad is a civil engineer in Malaysia, so I was always really interested to follow in his footsteps but he always said it was too hard for a woman to be a civil engineer, so I winded up doing business studies. But I ended up going into his field and he’s really proud of what I do.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I find it really interesting and sometimes it can be challenging. Health and safety in New Zealand is still in its infancy. There are still many people in the industry who do not believe that working safely can be beneficial in the long run for the individual and business. I think we still have a long way to go, we just have to keep working on it to keep everyone safe at work and able to go home at the end of the day.
Have you encountered any discrimination as a woman in construction?
Well, I’ve been in New Zealand for 26 years, as well as a public speaker since 2000, so I know how to deal with the situation. I have a bit of tomboy in me. I’ve learnt the way men communicate and the slang they use on-site and that makes it easy for me to work on-site with them.
If anyone wants to work in the construction industry then they definitely have to change their attitude and learn how to work with the guys on-site. Many people actually quite enjoy having a woman as a health and safety advisor, as we are better on the administration side and possibly better communicators. Some of the students at Site Safe have commented that it’s quite nice to have a female trainer, they feel quite it’s nurturing and that we have more empathy which men can have difficulty displaying sometimes.
What advice would you give women who might be thinking about getting into construction?
It is an interesting field.If you are really keen to learn something new, you should give it a go. It is challenging, we are working mainly with guys and there are still lots of macho men out there that don’t like to follow advice, but it is achievable, and I usually can manage a win-win situation. For me I’m still relatively new to the industry and I’m always learning, asking questions and researching. It’s important to understand and listen. You must love what you do, otherwise it’s pointless. I love this job and I will never look back, it is actually the best thing that ever happened to me.