There are women working in construction in Ireland - you just won’t come across them that often. Making up just eight per cent of those working in the construction industry, women remain a rare breed on Irish building sites.
Dubliner Sorcha Hynes is one of those lesser-spotted women, but she says things are changing. More women are choosing careers in construction, with a plethora of job opportunities available.
A senior construction manager with a background in business and architecture, Hynes leads the warehouse construction team in Lidl’s head office. Initially completing a Business and Law degree in University College Dublin, she eventually gave into a long held desire to study architecture, heading to Bath in England in order to do so. She explains that she deliberately chose the course in Bath University because the departments of architecture and civil engineering were combined, allowing her to obtain extensive exposure to both fields.
Upon completion of her architecture degree, Hynes immediately applied for a graduate role in Lidl. This was a calculated decision. “I wanted to work in project management and I applied to Lidl’s property, construction and facilities graduate stream because it had exciting graduate opportunities with a lot of early responsibility and exposure, which really appealed to me.”
The graduate programme offered Hynes invaluable experience in property construction, including the modernisation of several of Lidl’s stores. She was then appointed a junior project manager, which meant she was integrally involved in the management of a number of store construction projects. Hynes also had more strategic input into the retailer’s large scale construction projects; “I was responsible for implementing cost and time savings measures, which have since been adopted across all Lidl’s store projects,” she outlines.
It almost goes without saying that construction has been historically a male-dominated industry and Hynes admits that she has often been one of few females on many a site throughout her career. “I have always been aware of that but it has never affected me or presented any difficulties, to be honest. Although my colleagues within the construction department have been mainly male, they have always been really supportive and there has always been a great team attitude - I have never experienced any difficulties assimilating in the team. I have always been encouraged to develop and challenge myself and take on different roles and opportunities, whatever they might be.”
Hynes admits that young girls and women aren’t typically encouraged to pursue careers in engineering and construction. “It’s just not something that comes to mind but there are more women coming through as time moves on, and they are taking more senior positions within the industry. While there has been a big increase, we are still very much in the minority.”
It’s an exciting field and offers so many challenging and rewarding career opportunities, she adds. “There are a diverse range of jobs within the industry from quantity surveying, engineering, health and safety, as well as project management. I would love to see more women coming through.”
In her current role, Hynes is responsible for the retailer’s largest ongoing building project, an extension and modernisation of its regional distribution centre in Mullingar. When it is completed, the new development at Robinstown will increase the capacity of the retailer’s facility to around 62,000sq m - making it one of the largest buildings in the country.
Already one of the busiest Lidl warehouses in Europe, the €75 million project presents unique challenges not only in terms of scale but logistics too, Hynes says. She is charmingly enthusiastic about her work, admitting that she finds each project deeply rewarding. “I love seeing projects beginning at the drawing stage and then, within a relatively short period of time, develop into a building that people are using every day. There are challenges along the way - that’s what project management is about - but it’s about trying to solve them and reducing the impact they have on the cost and the quality of the project.”
Lidl has good work/life balance initiatives, such as really generous annual leave policies and working from home
Given the scope and scale of Lidl’s footprint in Ireland, every day on the job is different, Hynes says. “Lidl is quite innovative so we are always trying new things,” she notes, adding that sustainability has become a key element in the retailer’s building projects. “I was responsible for bringing solar panels to our stores. That was such an interesting thing to be given responsibility for. And having moved from working on store construction to warehouse construction at the beginning of this year, that’s been a big change for me and a whole other insight into the business.”
With this level of responsibility, Hynes could be forgiven for sounding stressed but she is quick to highlight the emphasis that Lidl places on work/life balance. When not on site, she likes to get away from it all with a spot of hiking, sailing or paddleboarding. She also loves to travel - she had to cut short a three-month sabbatical in Colombia when the pandemic hit.
“Being a project manager, it’s a lot of delegation and organisation, it’s all about planning and prioritising and structuring time so it’s my job to get the most out of the day,” she explains. “But Lidl has good work/life balance initiatives, such as really generous annual leave policies and working from home, so it’s easy to find that balance.”