Pauline Bastiaens / Project Manager / Alchemy Construct  / 
Spirit

story / Interview / November 23, 2020

I always say that life is full of opportunities and if an opportunity comes your way, take it and run with it. I never imagined when I was younger that I’d be in the construction industry, but I took that leap and love it till this day.

I fell into construction to start with. I’ve done it back to front compared to most people. I had my children first, my last child was born in 1993. I had my kids young, which is not what a lot of people do these days. I was married and had my first child two weeks before I turned 21. I don’t regret that because it’s given me the opportunity to achieve my career goals now that my kids have grown up and have their own lives.

I wanted to get into the workforce when my youngest was about nine or ten. I landed a job as an estimator for a custom door company. It was a small business in Mt Gambier, South Australia. So I learned how to estimate doors! I did that for a few years and then got a job as an entry level project coordinator for a steel fabricator, who had a design and construct arm.

The manager was old school and he wanted someone to just manage the full turn-key on their projects. It was tough, he threw me into the deep end. I just basically had to learn on my own. I researched, spoke to subcontractors, which was great as generally they were really helpful. I progressed and I learned estimating, right through to project delivery. My old-school manager didn’t like to call me a project manager, so he wouldn’t give me that title, but I did operate as a project manager way back then.

I have done a lot of work in Darwin, the outback, and in Alice Springs. It was very different. I built a recreation centre in Finke, which is pretty much in the centre of Australia. You may have heard of the Finke desert race? If you put your finger in the middle of Australia, you’d land on Finke. The logistics of building in the outback is pretty expensive. You could take a truck and materials into a site and not be able to get out again for a week because of floods. In the outback, you’ve got no concrete batching plants, so you have to take the whole batching plant with you to pour concrete. Just to build a toilet in the outback can cost a fortune. You can’t really build anything in the wet season, so everything gets built in the dry season in 6-8 months. Nothing gets built with gutters because there’s too much rain.

I guess it’s the competitive spirit in me, but people will just want to hold you down and I like to prove them wrong. I’ve had managers in the past that have wanted to set me up to fail, they knew they were throwing me in the deep end and it would be very likely I would fail, but I just wanted to prove them wrong. I had to push hard a lot of times. I had to be strong. But when you know you’re right, because you’ve done your homework, you can say ‘this is how it should be’ and stand your ground.

When I see a young woman in the industry, because there aren’t many of us, I always find time to stop and have a chat. We are starting to see more and more women working with plumbers, working with electricians but also more in the administration side. I can’t really speak too much for the women in trades, but in the past I’ve seen women working as a CA for example and they work so hard. They put 150% of their time in, because of the unconscious bias that they have to work extra hard to get the same recognition than the guy next to them – you know, who rocks up late and doesn’t give any attention to detail. Often, he’ll get the bigger job before she does. It’s just what happens. So I try to encourage the girls as much as I can, because I know how tough it can be.

I’ve been at Alchemy for two and a half years now. I only moved to Victoria about five years ago. Alchemy has really supported me as a woman and I’ve felt valued from day dot, which is something I appreciate because of struggles I’ve had in the past.

Although it gets stressful, I just love the industry. I love building something from scratch. That’s what I like about Alchemy – I’ve had the variety – the opportunity to do a lot of new builds, rather than just fit-outs. I also like figuring out how to do things better. In the current climate, clients are always looking for Value Management and I like looking at something and thinking, well is this the best way to do it? Can I get my design juices flowing?

With a Tier 2 or 3 company too, I think you get a chance to be a bit more on site and often you have to learn to be flexible in the role you are in. My CAs and my project coordinators – I like to get them on site as much as possible. To help them visualise what they are putting together. I think it is great for graduate to start in a smaller company.  You get a broader understanding of everything, which may in turn help a graduate figure out what path they want to follow.  You get out of Uni and you might have a masters in project management, but as soon as you get on the ground it’s a different world. You aren’t going to study project management and walk straight into a project management role in construction. That’s not how it works.

I’ve got a lot of younger people working for me and the respect that they give me is really encouraging. I think the younger generation understands more about diversity and tolerance and they’ll call it out. Misogyny is just not acceptable. The kind of mateship where the guys just want to talk to the guys doesn’t exist so much with them. They aren’t intimidated by talking to a woman. I’m finding that the younger generation is much easier to work with.

My mother is a very independent woman. I’d always watch her doing things around the house.  She’d never wait for a man to do anything! I think I’ve got that independent spirit about me too and I’d always love to make Dad proud. I’ve always tried to do things myself – maintaining the car, fixing things around the house. And I think I’ve taught my kids that as well. I really believe whatever you want to be, whether it’s a ballerina or a truck driver – just do it well if that’s your passion. Put your heart and soul into it and you will be successful.

 

Whilst we are all over the olde Zoom meeting (and missing catching up with our interviewees in the cute lanes of Melbourne), it was so lovely to have a chat one evening with Pauline to learn about her journey and her work at Alchemy Construct. What is most refreshing is how supportive and proud Alchemy are of their project manager. Pauline is down to earth, and a great sense of practicality about her. We can both imagine that on site she is sharp and logical in her approach – an absolute pleasure for the people that work with her, we are sure! It’s always interesting to see the different pathways that people take to project management. And it is what makes our industry great – such a diverse range of experiences and expertise. It’s so important to have people like Pauline mentoring the experience-less cohorts coming through from Uni. It adds depth to their experience also. We wish Pauline the very best on her current project and for the last part of 2020. J&D xx

 

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