The Smooth Operator initiative showcases leaders in the construction industry who are changing the way they operate in innovative ways with people, processes and technology. This week’s Smooth Operator is Kim Liddell, Managing Director Non-Destructive Excavations Australia (NDEA).
Kim has over 14 years of experience within the civil construction industry and is well known for her work for the industry as a Civil Contractors Federation (CCF NSW) Board Member and founding member of the Women in Civil program. As an early player in the non-destructive excavation industry, NDEA played a crucial role in educating the industry of what is now an industry-standard service.
NDEA works on some of NSW’s largest projects including the Sydney Metro project, NorthConnex, WestConnex and RMS Road upgrades, as well as for civil contractors including Abergeldie Complex Infrastructure, Talis Civil, Ward Civil and Western Earthmoving. Kim is also an Accelerator and Executive Chair of the Entrepreneurs Organisation, Sydney Chapter and was a Telstra Business Women’s Award finalist in 2016.
Tell us about the start of NDEA
When I created NDEA, it was the first time I entered the civil construction industry. Prior to that, I wasn’t in the industry. I had a background in business, sales and marketing. In 2005 I bought my first truck as I noticed an opportunity in the market for vacuum trucks on the M7 project. During that time, non-destructive excavation wasn’t a common practice and there were only a few players in the game. Back then, education was a big piece in our business development activities. People didn’t know what non-destructive excavation practices were. Now, vacuum trucks are an industry-standard due to legislation changes that require non-destructive process on projects.
Since then, NDEA grew consistently and we purchased a new truck every year with our growth. I started with a home office and was able to hire an operator through word of mouth. The biggest challenge in starting in NDEA was that I had given birth to my third child by the time my first truck went to work. So I was looking after 3 kids under 6 as well as starting my new business. The home office worked well for NDEA in the beginning as the trucks were always onsite during the day. But we also had a yard in Northwest Sydney.
What do you think are the roadblocks to women entering the industry?
There are so few women in the civil construction industry. CCF NSW conducted a study and found only 4% of the civil construction industry are women and 76% of those women are in admin roles. A lot of the women that are in the industry usually enter because they have a familial connection in the industry. For those who are not in the industry, “you can’t be what you cannot see”. The limited education and awareness of careers in civil for women is the biggest roadblock.
What advice would you give women looking into a career in civil?
I would highly recommend the civil construction industry, there just aren’t that many of us women in the industry, yet! But don’t be intimidated by that diversity gap. You get to work outside in a dynamic environment with a tight-knit supportive team and the pay is great! With over $100 billion dollars invested in infrastructure over the next couple of years, there is no slowing down the industry. These large investments from the Government support the strength of the industry to provide promising careers. Projects can take you across regional and metropolitan areas and once each project is completed, you can see the positive impact your work has on the community. From pipes that bring much-needed water to regional communities to roads that connect cities like they never did before. Civil construction gives you the opportunity to say with genuine satisfaction, “we built that”.
Tell us about the Women in Civil initiative at CCF NSW
CCF NSW recognised that the civil construction industry remains largely male-dominated and started the women in civil as part of their ongoing work to promote gender diversity in the civil industry. The civil industry has started by actively recruiting women which is the stepping stone to combating the skills and labour shortage. The CCF NSW Women in Civil program launched in 2017 to encourage more women to join and remain in the industry. It is a formal mentoring program that supports the development of women in civil. The CCF NSW Women in Civil program also provides networking opportunities and facilitates a virtual community focussed on regional areas of NSW.
Furthermore, the CCF NSW recognises the vital role education plays in bringing women into the civil construction industry. Women in Civil mentors actively engage with the community, particularly through speaking at schools to students and parents about how the civil industry can be an excellent career option for females.
With gender diversity in the workplace, employers get highly capable workers, a calmer workplace and access to a huge labour resource that is underutilised. As long as women continue to feel welcome, supported and respected in the civil industry, women can continue to flourish in the civil industry.
As NDEA’s fleet and crew grew, Kim recognised the importance of implementing technology to remain compliant, efficient and competitive in the industry. Read the NDEA case study and discover how they use Assignar for plant maintenance and staff management.