“I started in the construction sector thinking that it wasn’t my place and I wouldn’t fit, but I got a surprise”

Sandra Botella Bonilla finished her training at the Centre of Fundación Laboral in Palma two months ago and now works as a bricklayer’s labourer for a construction company on the island. Among his aims is to continue training in Occupational Risk Prevention or digitization applied to construction

After a lifetime of working as an administrator, she decided to try her luck in construction, at 49 years of age. Last year, Sandra enrolled in the Level 1 Certificate of Professionalism for Auxiliary Operations of Continuous Coatings in Construction at the Training Centre of the Fundación Laboral de Palma, in Mallorca. Today she works as a bricklayer’s pawn in a company on the island and has numerous projects for his future, in a sector in which he did not imagine working and which has “surprised” her.

QUESTION.- Why did you decide to enroll in the course to obtain the Certificate?

ANSWER.- When I signed up I was unemployed and had not had full-time contracts for a long time. I was looking for a training that would allow me to improve my knowledge and I saw that course on construction, something in which I had no experience. I asked if I could sign up, even if I didn’t know anything, and they said yes. I came in a bit to try, thinking that it wasn’t my place, that it wouldn’t fit, and I got a surprise.

Q.- What image did you have of the construction?

A.- Before I arrived I had some knowledge in the sector and I knew that the worker no longer has the profile of being a person without training. In construction there is a more varied environment, with people from different cultures. In fact, I’m very happy because my colleagues respect me a lot, not only because I’m a woman, but also because I don’t have experience. They have no problem teaching me how to do things. They have patience with me and that’s something to be thankful for.

Q.- What did you do before?

A.- I used to work as an administrative officer and I’ve also dedicated myself to teaching technological subjects, programming, a sector where there aren’t many women either. Curiously, I have noticed more faces of surprise or surprise in the technological sector than in construction.

Q.- Were you ever unsure about getting into this sector because of your gender?

A.- At first I thought that this course was aimed at men, not only because of tradition, but also because sometimes work requires a quantity of physical strength and body size more typical of men. I am a woman who measures one and a half meters and I asked if this was an impediment. It wasn’t just the fact that I was a man or a woman that could push me back the most, but also the physical issue. And it wasn’t a problem. In construction you sometimes need people who do the hard work, of strength, and workers who do the “fine” work. You can fit in here too.

Q.- What do you remember about your time in the course?

A.- I liked the course a lot. When you ‘get into’ a new field, everything is interesting, because everything is good for you to learn. However, in the practical part I felt a little bit more lost than my classmates and I got angry with myself because things didn’t work out at first, but it was a matter of time. Also, I was the only woman in the class and I didn’t have any problems. My classmates were very respectful, nor were they surprised to see me on the first day. They saw it as a normal thing.

Q.- How do you remember your first day on the construction site in the training?

A.- The first day they sent a classmate and me to the same work. The person in charge tried to put me in places where I could touch a little of everything within what I had learned in the course. Some of my colleagues were surprised at first, but I ended up being one more. After the internship we were called to join the work and, for the moment, I have a contract of three months, extendable.

Q.- How is it possible to combine your work with family life?

A.- This sector does not have a very bad schedule, there are no shifts. I have more or less the same schedule every day, which allows me to organize myself well in the afternoons when I arrive home. Also, at the construction site where I work we don’t do Saturdays and I have the weekend to do other things. On the other hand, my children are older and easier to carry, I have no problem.

Q.- What do you like most about your job?

A.- I like that it’s not always the same. There are days when you have to make a little bit of paste for some fillings, other days I have to paint, finish, finishings… This makes it not a monotonous job. On the other hand, what I find most difficult is some physical work, such as rubble removal. At the end of the day you can see it, although I know it’s all about getting used to it. At first it was a bit hard, but it’s part of the job.

Q.- Have you had any problem in your day-to-day work for being a woman?

A.- One of the biggest problems I encounter is that the costumes are not yet adapted to women. The clothes I’m wearing are men’s, because there are no women’s safety pants. I have found boots of my number, but they still have all the clothes in big size. I suppose that as there are more women in the sector, this will be updated.

Q.- Have you found more women working in the sector?

A.- My boss is a woman, just like when I did the internship. There are also women in terms of risk prevention or quality. There are women, but they are usually in technical positions and with some training. On the construction site there are almost none, there are few. In my company I am the only one.

Q.- Why do you think women are not encouraged to be part of the sector?

A.- I guess that, in part, because this is hard work physically and maybe not all women want to do it. I also think there are few women who feel comfortable in an environment with so many men. I had already worked with men in other sectors and they have always respected me. I haven’t had any problems.

Q.- Do you regret not having gone before to work in the sector?

A.- I don’t know. I started from the start looking for new fields and I don’t know if it could have occurred to me before. I guess I didn’t try it before because I myself thought I didn’t have the most suitable physical conditions and that made me not focus on this field.

Q.- Are you thinking of continuing your training in the sector?

A.- Yes. In fact, I have taken another safety course on the site because I am very interested in the subject of prevention of accidents and I want to continue training in this branch. There are also topics of digitalization applied to construction or virtual reality that also interest me very much. Construction is a profession that you do with your hands, it has the attraction of being something artisan, and I find it interesting because there are many aspects that I didn’t know. I would like to train in the sector so that I can make progress.

Q.- Have you met young people working in construction?

A.- The profile I coincided with in the course was mostly older, from 40 years old and up. Later, at the construction site, I did see a young person who started early in a family business, but there aren’t many of them. Now young people are interested in other fields that are more attractive, for example, in the Balearic Islands, the tourist theme has more pull and young people do not think about construction.

Q.- How do you think the sector is going to change in the coming years?

A.- Now it seems to be taking off; companies need staff. There are also more people who sign up for the courses, and I’m sure more women will sign up.

Q.- What would you say to a young girl who is considering being part of the construction sector?

A.- I would tell her to try it. That she sign up because then you are surprised and you see some area that you like. I encourage him to try it and try it. You don’t have to be prejudiced or come in with preconceived ideas, because this is a very broad sector. For example, there are machine courses that are not so physically hard that they can be an option.

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