Women in Fasteners & Tools: Mirka Valovicova, fischer fixings

Mirka Valovicova, Technical Manager at fischer fixings, leads a team of seven and clocks up hours on construction sites across the country. Torque quizzes Valovicova on her experiences in the fixings business…

How did you get into the industry in the first place?

By pure chance. From an early age I preferred activities requiring logical thinking instead of humanities subjects, but I didn’t have a very clear idea what I want to do. Even at the age of 18 when I was choosing my university course, it wasn’t very clear to me what I really wanted to do. The last two options I was considering were either Medical School or Technical University.

In the end the technical subject prevailed. The prospect of doing a course where the larger proportion of students would be male wasn’t daunting
to me, quite the opposite. In the end I selected a Civil Engineering course, with the idea of being a building designer.

In the first year we had a compulsory module at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering about Anchors and Fasteners Technology. The irony was, I really didn’t like the module! I found the subject somehow irrelevant to my studies. If somebody at that point told me my future job will be related to this topic and I would actually enjoy it, I am not sure I would have believed them!

What kind of work does fischer’s Technical Department do?

Any technical back up support for fischer’s customers: distributors, end users (installers), colleagues (sales force) and also the general public (DIY enthusiasts).

We provide an advisory service via a technical helpline. People can contact us to discuss various challenges they may have, related to our products or their application. This is done via telephone, e-mails and also utilising technology like Skype and Facetime using iPad or smartphones. This offers more personal face-to-face consultation and customers are also able to show us directly what they are looking at, making it easier and much more user-friendly.

Part of our technical support is also design assistance, training, site support... and we have our fantastic design software Fixperience [visit www.fischer.co.uk for more details].

What does your day-to-day role involve?

The beauty of my job is that it is varied and two days are not the same. I am office-based, but often I am required to work out in the field, so it is a perfect balance. Of course being in charge of the Technical Department and a team of seven people, certain administration tasks must be completed if not every day then at least weekly. The more exciting part of my job is to solve various application enquiries, supporting our customers with various project solutions. I love going out meeting various people, promoting the fischer brand out in the field. This is done via various customer visits, meetings and also via training.

It’s such a pleasure to be invited by  various companies and present CPD seminars. It is a great chance for us to share our expertise and our passion, demonstrate fischer’s product range, the latest developments, design rules of anchor technology following the latest state of the art design principles and latest design codes. It’s not only theoretical training that I provide. It’s vital to also offer practical hands-on demonstrations which is often the preferred way of learning for our customers. So yes, I have to take that big hammer drill and demonstrate to often male dominated training groups how our anchors are installed correctly.

What are the best things about working in the industry?

It is never boring and doesn’t stay still. If you have just an office job doing, for example, design, you are in front of the laptop most of the time.
Working with customers involved in various construction projects, you have an opportunity to go out and about quite a lot, meeting various
people in different roles and solving the challenges they face. Projects are constantly evolving, bringing new opportunities for us.

The scope of applications on construction projects is vast, which makes it even more interesting for us.

Do you have any advice for other women thinking of stepping into the industry and/or construction world?

Go for it, it is an exciting world out there. It is constantly changing... How many people can walk around our towns and cities pointing out ‘look, this is what I was involved with, that’s where I worked, that’s what I delivered’? It is so nice seeing something on the screen and then seeing it built in the real world. It’s nice to know you contributed to something being created, whatever small part you played.

On construction projects, you are exposed to people from different backgrounds and cultures, which I find quite fascinating. You have to adjust how you communicate, depending on the level of expertise of the other parties. Even though it’s not always easy, it’s often good fun!

What would you say to anyone put off the industry by that stereotype of a male-orientated culture?

Construction is a male-dominated industry which poses certain challenges for us females. But certainly it is changing in recent years, more and more female engineers are entering the market. For sure, the fixing industry is so male dominated but I take it as a nice challenge and sometimes even an advantage. As a female engineer, you may be challenged more and you may have to prove you know what you are talking about. However on the other hand, when you demonstrate your expertise and your competence, people remember you more! I also find that if you provide good support, customers are impressed and may appreciate you even more than if the same advice was given by the male colleague.

Any final thoughts for us?

Don’t be put off by any negative feedback you may get. Follow what you believe in, trust your judgment, believe in yourself, it will be recognised and rewards will come. Sometimes it’s hard work but very enjoyable too!

I have no regrets following this career path and I would encourage others doing the same if they have the passion and interest in technical subjects and like interacting with various people.