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WIC Week—Getting the Work

Estimating Engineer Laura Valdez

If you ask someone to imagine a construction worker on a job site and then describe them, more often than not their go-to image will be of a man. Women comprise only 10.3 percent of employees in the industry, and of course that number is even smaller when you narrow it down to those in the field, so it’s not surprising that a male figure comes to mind.

But the numbers of women in construction is on the rise, and more and more women can easily see themselves in the field. At Manson, our numbers reflect this, sitting just above the industry at 10.6 percent of our workforce. We’ll be shining the spotlight on some of the women who have made their careers at Manson with a series of stories throughout the week.

Today, we focus on those who work in the pre-construction phase, at the beginning of the process to get the work that Manson performs. Estimating engineers and those coordinating the bids and proposals are key to ensuring that Manson starts out on the right foot when procuring work. The effort that goes into securing the next construction or dredging job for the company is complex and requires the ability to juggle seemingly innumerable tasks at once, and to coordinate with many people to create the best possible solution for a target client.

“As part of the estimating group, I prepare cost estimates for future dredging projects,” explains Laura Valdez, Manson estimating engineer working out of the Jacksonville, Florida, office. “This involves a lot of research and collaboration with our operations and equipment department as well as upper management to ensure that we have the best plan in place to perform the work.”

Laura, pictured above looking out on the water, has been with Manson for six years, spending four of those in the field before switching to an estimating role in early 2019. She says one of the things she enjoys about her work at Manson is that the company has a good system in place, but is always trying to find a better way. “I like that this is still an evolving job where we are constantly looking for better methods and resources,” she explains. “It’s inspiring to know that as an estimator you are part of one of the first steps to a successful job.”

Laura came to Manson after working at a large engineering firm doing roadway design, but there weren’t many opportunities to get out in the field, and she says that’s one of the things she appreciates about Manson. After spending four years as a field engineer, one might assume that estimating isn’t quite as exciting, but Laura says she still loves her job. “I love that Manson fosters an environment of constant learning that the managers promote through different temporary work assignments and field time,” she says. “It’s hard to say what exactly my future holds, but I really enjoy the work I’m doing now. It’s exciting to be a part of procuring large contracts that benefit the entire company.”

Jillian Strobel, Manson proposal and marketing coordinator, could not agree more. She says it inspires her to see how all of the parts and pieces work together. “I sometimes wonder what the crew on the EP Paup is going to have for dinner, or how material testing is going on the SEAWOLF project, and realize that, while I pick away at a document on Adobe InDesign, we are all cogs turning the beautiful wheel,” she says.

Jillian works closely with the estimating team who performs the engineering and bid portion of the proposal while she develops the working proposal document.

“My main role is to lead proposal development, the Manson sales pitch for new marine construction or dredging work,” she explains.

Her role requires a lot of juggling and multi-tasking and the ability to shift gears at a moment’s notice. “I schedule progress meetings, design the proposal layout, write and edit content, and make sure that the final document complies with the owner’s instructions, coordinating all the various sections that estimators and others are working on to put into our final submission,” she explains. “It is a very collaborative process, where many people weigh in on what is working and what needs work, or what is the best solution to present our strategy.”

An employee with Manson in the Seattle office for just over two years, Jillian says her path was not exactly a linear one. “I was doing sales and marketing for an art gallery, and now I work on proposals for a marine construction company, which seems like a strange transition, but actually makes sense in a roundabout way.” When she first moved to Seattle, she realized there wasn’t much of an art industry for her to find work. “I found a position in marketing at a landscape architecture firm and that would be my gateway from art to construction.” It was there she learned how much she liked working on proposals.

“They are like puzzles to solve and win,” she says. “I also like deadlines and the fast pace.”

Jillian still manages to find time for art though, running a non-profit art gallery out of her garage in Seattle. With art close by, she says she can see herself in proposals for years to come. “I’ve heard you can get burnt out in the role, but I can’t imagine it.”

Another field engineer who has recently started a Temporary Work Assignment with the estimating department is Hannah Schorr, also currently working out of the Jacksonville office. For her, it seems although she wasn’t planning to go into dredging, it was just meant to be. Manson Vice President Henry Schorr is her father’s cousin, and his father was part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Honestly, I thought I was going to go into oil and gas since I studied geology,” she explains. “But I’m not the first, I’m not even the second. I guess dredging is in our blood.” Once it came time to launch her career she found herself looking at further options, that’s when her mother reminded her of Manson. As a child Hannah used to wear a pink Manson hat all summer long every summer while she was a junior golfer. “At that time I didn’t even know what Manson was, so it’s kind of funny that I ended up working here.”

Hannah has worked with Manson more than four years as a field engineer and recently started her estimating assignment in January, and she says it’s already opened her eyes and given her a better understanding of the company.

“It gives you a glimpse of the other departments, what they’re doing, and you have a better understanding of the overall process,” she says. “It’s definitely given me a better understanding and appreciation for what goes on outside the field, outside of our daily operations, and a better understanding of why we do things the way that we do.”

Hannah also completed a Contracts & Insurance Group TWA last year and says that was when she realized that, “you really don’t know until you know,” she says laughing. “There is really a lot going on behind the scenes and unless you have that experience or have been around for a long time, it is hard to wrap your head around.” She said she appreciates that at Manson she has the opportunity early in her career to learn and understand these things.

That said, she knows her future is out in the field.

“I love getting up in the morning and walking to the marina, seeing the sunrise, getting on the crew boat,” she says. “I have never felt dread when it’s time to go back out on my next 19-day rotation.” She just loves knowing that she’s about to spend her day out on a boat on the water.

“I really enjoy my job. I would love to continue year after year and be here,” Hannah says.

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