This article is in support of National Women in Construction Week, March 5 – 11, 2017. For more information, visit nawic.org. Be sure to catch all five BW features of different women shaping the industry!
With a degree in civil engineering, Silvana Lara entered into the construction world at age 21. While she started her career in her home country of Venezuela, Lara now works as a senior construction engineer at Fluor in their Calgary office.
At the end of 2016, Constructech recognized her as one of their 2016 Women in Construction for her commitment to quality project planning through advanced work packaging (AWP) and workface planning. “When they gave me that recognition,” Lara said, “it was impressive how everyone just asked me, ‘Hey what did you do to be in that position?’ I said, ‘I didn’t to anything more than my job. I just feel proud to do what I do and try to do my best, always.'” After working in the industry for nearly 25 years, it would seem the pride she takes in her work hasn’t faltered one bit, which is why we chose to highlight her during Women in Construction week.
What is your role at Fluor?
Currently, I serve as the global advanced work packaging (AWP) and workface planning (WFP) manager for Fluor, reporting directly to the president of Construction and Fabrication. In my role, I support the implementation of AWP and WFP by creating training programs, training people, supporting proposals and helping with the specific implementation of AWP and WFP on projects. Right now, my main focus is developing and deploying these programs throughout the organization, which allows me to interact with a multitude of clients and Fluor teams around the world. It is very challenging and rewarding and I’m enjoying the journey.
Were you always passionate in the built environment?
Definitely. I love to see how things change during the life of a project as it goes from concept to completion – from drawings to the final facility that will eventually produce a product. The majority of the projects I have been a part of have been large or mega projects. When you go from a concept, a clear piece of land, and transform it into a full facility in a four- to five-year time period, you feel an incredible sentiment and sense of accomplishment. I definitely have a passion for that. In my spare time, I love to build LEGO sets, especially LEGO Architecture, which involves all of my passions.
Is there a specific project that you’ve been a part of that you’ve felt lucky to have worked on?
Every project is unique and has something that makes it special. I’ve been very lucky in my career. My most recent project with Fluor – a major refinery project in Canada – was very special for me as it provided me with the opportunity to use most of my skills and abilities that I have learned throughout my career. We were really successful with implementing AWP and WFP from detailed engineering through construction and were recognized by the client for the accomplishment.
Another one that is very special is my last project in my home country, Venezuela. I was part of the owner’s project team from engineering through construction, commissioning and start-up, and later supported the sustaining capital projects team for several years before coming to Canada. I remember we had some site preparation problems and, on Christmas Eve, we needed to work at ground level to find a solution, which we did. Three years later, there was a massive 3,000-cubic-meter concrete tower at that location. We were able to complete it without major problems. This gives you an incredible feeling of accomplishment and you recognize you are at the right place, with the right people.
Several times, with my twin daughters, I have driven by project sites in Venezuela that I worked on. I pointed them out to my daughters and said, “Did you know that Mommy worked there and helped build that plant?” They said, “Really, Mom? That’s awesome! How did you do that?” That response is very rewarding.
What is something you haven’t done, but would like to in the future?
As a short-term, I definitely need to consolidate everything related to this new department and new initiative that we have in Fluor. We need to be sure we have standard processes and procedures for AWP and workface planning. That’s probably my main immediate goal.
In the long-term, I believe AWP and workface planning is something that needs to be promoted on a more global level. Here in North America it is pretty well-known in the majority of the industry, but we need to promote it a little more globally.
As a person I need to find a balance between my work life and personal life. I feel like a workaholic. [But other than that], I will feel really proud if all the people who report to my boss feel that the group that works for me are as comfortable and accountable as I am at this point. Which means create and grow a group that’s responsible and has the same level of achievements as I have, the same assignments that I have — that’s really important for me. More than that, I always have in the back of my mind I should go back to the university and do a post-degree. I will do that at some point of my life. I think any type of additional study that some person can do always opens your mind and helps everyone in their career.
What do you think could be done to get more women to join the industry?
I think we need to break that paradigm of construction that it’s a man place. I’m never going to ask anyone on my construction site to treat me differently than they do another employee just because I am a woman.
In the last several years, we’ve definitely started to see more and more women in construction and engineering, and that makes me proud. Interviews like this one, showing women in the industry, and talking to students showcases that women can do well in this industry. The culture is changing.
At Fluor, I’m implementing AWP and WFP in many different offices. I always try to take the opportunity to sit down, for at least one hour after work, with our young professional organizations and show them what can be done in construction – what is possible. Many women often ask how I got started in construction. I recommend that everyone take a site construction assignment because if you take a site assignment, it will open your mind and give you the ability to expand your horizons more than what you experience in the home office. Additionally, don’t let anyone treat you differently. Just try to do your best and go with an open mind. Sometimes you’re going to be asked to do a job you don’t like, but go there with an open mind and be part of the group. Make yourself one of the team.
Is there anything else that you think is important to add?
I believe sometimes one does not realize the kind of impact something like this interview can have on people. Any kind of story that can inspire other women to pursue a career in construction is important. Thank you for the opportunity to share mine. I am proud to have started in construction 25 years ago in Venezuela and to encourage more women to get involved in the construction industry.