Krystyna Linkowska is an Associate Director at LMC Engineering and has 12 years of experience in the construction industry in Ireland, working through some of the most challenging times in the industry.
An incredibly determined individual, when she talked to Construction Network Ireland as part of our ‘Women in Construction’ series, Krystyna shared a truly inspirational story of starting from the very bottom in Ireland and working her way to where she is today.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the Construction Industry Krystyna?
“I studied in Poland in a city called Wroclaw, first in high school and then in University. I studied building services for five years full-time in University, finishing with a Masters degree in Building Services”.
“While being in university I was working in a mechanical services consultancy. When Ireland opened its borders to workers from Poland and other European countries in 2004, I heard that the prospects were good there for professionals. Even though I had a job, I thought to myself ‘why not’, I will try it for a few months and if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out’. As it turns out, a few months has ended up being 12 years!”
I arrived in Ireland in late 2004, and living here for so many years I now understand that this time of year is not a good time to be looking for work. People are winding down for Christmas, and their mind is more on preparations for Christmas and parties than on interviewing and hiring people.”
“I was staying in a hostel when I moved here first as my funds were limited and as tough as it was that was actually a really useful place to be because you could get information from other people in the same situation about where you should go, who you should talk to about work and find out what the lay of the land was generally”.
“Due to the time of year I was finding it difficult to get work in the area that I wanted. Even though I had gone to the professional recruitment agencies and put my CV out there, I needed something to keep me going, so I did a lot of different jobs initially – working as a shop assistant, working in a factory in IT, and also working for a professional cleaning company.”
“In early 2005 I found a job with one of the leading mechanical contractors which I worked there as a Project Engineer and then Project Manager.
That must have been very challenging – being in a new country looking for work in the run up to Christmas, and with no business contacts.
“It was and you do have your doubts, especially around Christmas when you see all of the decorations up and people celebrating and you are away from your family and friends and you have a Euro in your pocket. It was tough trying to survive, but thinking about it now it was a great experience.”
“It makes you grateful for what you have, and looking back I realise that I must have been very determined, which wasn’t something I would have thought about myself at the time. I now appreciate that I had a hard journey to get to where I am now and having that experience just makes me hungry to do and achieve more, because if you know what you want, where you want to be and if you are willing to work really hard, then the sky is the limit.
Whether you are female or male, with a bit of luck and a lot of hard work and determination you can accomplish whatever you want.”
The construction industry is still a very male-dominated business, perhaps more so than a lot of others. Have you ever felt that doors were closed to you as a woman?
“I don’t believe that I have ever faced discrimination in that sense and although the construction industry is a tough one it is also an industry that is very flexible as it is very much project focused. When you are involved in the project you need to get the job done no matter what it takes, no matter how long you have to work – but in between those times there are opportunities to take a little more time with family and unwind, which is very important”.
“The hardest time for me in the construction industry as a woman was when I was pregnant, and I think that is probably the same for a lot of women in the industry. I was working on building sites and you have to make sure that you balance the physical and mental stress of the job with staying as healthy as possible for your child.
“When I was pregnant for the second time I was working on site at the Mater Hospital – it was a ten story building with no lifts – so it was important to make sure that you don’t put yourself under too much stress running up and down stairs all day!”
“That said I was always very conscious of not asking or getting any special treatment because I was not sick and I was able to do the work. You don’t want people you work with to think that you are making an excuse, or that you are unable to think constructively and logically just because you are pregnant. I was very much aware of that as well as knowing that it was important to take good care of myself”.
How have you found balancing parenthood and your career? I understand that there is an inherent bias in the question as it is rarely asked of men in the same circumstance, but as we have been talking about the challenges of being pregnant and on a building site I think it is an interesting follow on from that. Have you found working in the industry family friendly?
“I don’t have a problem with the question really, it is challenging but not just for women, for men as well. Men often think it is a chauvinistic question to ask, and in certain circumstances it can be, but men nowadays are doing a lot more parenting and becoming involved in rearing the children more than they did in times past, and there are also particular challenges for people who are single parents, both men, and women.”
“For me, it is about having a good schedule and discipline – knowing that you have to be out at a certain time to pick the kids up, or drop them off somewhere which means you make sure you get your work done on schedule. Obviously, in my working environment, this is a task on its own, but you always have to do your best in order to achieve what was previously planned”.
“The reality of being a Project Manager or an Associate Director is that you are not just working from 9.00 until 17.30. You do your work during the day, you come home and do your share of the work at home, and then once the kids are in bed in the evening you are catching up on work, on media, doing extra reading etc. Again you have to be always careful in what you do, where you do it and how much you do it – just not to overdo it”.
“It is about having that determination and being well organized, and once you have that routine it is possible to balance it. I think having the kids keep you ‘straight’ and down to earth because in our line of work it is very easy to become a workaholic and having to take that break is good for the brain. It means when you come back to the task you are working on afterward, you are better able to solve the problems and get the work done much more efficiently”.
You have been in Ireland for 12 years now and you studied English in school and University, but did you find working in such a technical area in a second language challenging when you first arrived?
“The technical terms used in my line of work are very different to the type of English that I would have learned in school, that is for sure! But at this stage, I think I would have more difficulty using technical words in Polish than in English and I certainly find that when I am talking to people I studied with in University who are also in the industry”.
“I believe that every day is a school day, even now I am constantly learning. I still have my ‘dictionary’ that I created myself when I was starting out here – every day I would learn new terms or phrases and I saved them on my computer so that I could go over them at night, as well as reading construction magazines and papers. Actually, I still have my first technical Polish-English dictionary my parents bought for me when I was leaving Poland”.
You’ve recently become an Associate Director at LMC Engineering – can you tell us a little about your new role and what it involves, and also about your CPD?
“I was recently hired as an Associate Director at LMC Engineering. It’s a young, energetic and growing company. We have three divisions – Engineering, where I work, and also a Facility and Energy divisions. I am a certified Senior Project Manager with the Institute of Project Management Ireland, which is part of IPMA and by this time next year I hope to be a Certified Director, that is my aim”.
“It is probably a bit of a cliché, but there is no ‘typical day’ in our job. You come in to work, check your emails, make the phone calls you need to make, make sure you are keeping on top of tenders that are going out, while also managing the projects that you are working on.”
“You are also doing client meetings, checking specifications, but at any time you can get a call from a consultant, main contractor, your team members who need advice on something and you might have to head out. That is what I like about this occupation – every day and every hour there is something happening and there is no opportunity to get bored.
“In the new role, I have more strategic involvement in the company and seeking areas which present opportunities for us to make new business with clients we haven’t worked with recently”.
“For me personally, I am always trying to find new opportunities to learn. By doing that I’m evolving my effectiveness, as well as improving methods to circumvent problems and constrains in any of the future projects. Going on professional courses, like Construction Law or Project Management, which are particular areas of interest to me, help both the company and myself.”
“You need to keep moving forward and keep continuously challenging yourself so you raise the bar, striving for continuous improvement. You have to seek every eventuality to gain more knowledge and experience. You always have to be open-minded and eager to observe and listen. You have to aspire to work with the best, because only then, you can become one of them. “