Our Women In Hi Vis: Vee Ungounga

Historically the construction industry has been male-dominated, but things are changing. With the increase and variety of job opportunities available, we’re seeing more and more women enter roles in construction.
Vee on site in her element

Our Community Liaison Advisor, Janette Kearns, caught up with Vee Ungounga, leading hand in Northcote, to learn about her journey as a woman in the construction industry.

Vee joined Dempsey Wood in 2019 before being seconded to Piritahi. In a short space of time, Vee’s ability to lead and take ownership in her work has been clear for her peers to see. A busy single mum with three young boys - nine, seven, and four, Vee is kept busy outside of work with her whānau and friends. 

What do you like about the construction industry? 

It’s so interesting. I started as a labourer and kept pretty quiet for my first few days. In no time, my natural curiosity and personality began to show. I constantly asked my team questions about what we were doing and why. I think I drove them crazy! But, they helped me to learn a lot of what I know. I enjoy challenging my knowledge and am constantly seeking to learn more each day.

What were some of the challenges you faced when entering the industry? 

I’m faced with new challenges every day. New jobs, working with and meeting different people and trying to find solutions to endless problems, to name a few. I knew the work wasn’t going to be easy, but like I said, I enjoy a good challenge.

At the beginning, physically keeping up with the boys was probably the hardest part. They were stronger than me, but I quickly learned how to keep up by playing to my own strengths and abilities. 

How were you accepted in a male-dominated industry?  

Everyone I met was very kind and accepting. I felt comfortable being myself and feel very much part of the Piritahi Northcote whānau. Management are supportive and respectful of both my professional and personal life.  My family were encouraging and supportive and that helped too. They are my motivation. Everything I do is for my family - my parents and my boys. If I won lotto, I would buy my parents a house and have a holiday (before coming back to work of course!).

Any advice for other women wanting to join the industry?

I’d love to see more women in the industry and would encourage them to simply give it a go if they’re interested! If you’re thinking about it, just come and try it...just do it! It’s no longer a boy’s club and with the right attitude, anyone - male or female, is capable of succeeding. Everyone starts at at the bottom but with hard work, you can work your way up in no time.

Northcote site seen from above in 2018.

So where to for Vee in 2020? 

I'd like to work towards becoming a foreman and learn to operate a wide range of plant equipment. I’ve been given the opportunity to work as a trainee foreman on the Greenslade Reserve Upgrade and I’m really looking forward to what this challenge brings.

Learning is very important to me, so I plan to carry on doing so throughout my career. Since leaving school, I‘ve completed lots of courses and certificates and I’m not about to stop now!

Vee is one of many women across our sites helping to shape a new narrative of what it is like to work in the construction industry, demonstrating first-hand the growth and opportunities available to everyone. A massive thank you to Vee for sharing her inspiring story and we look forward to following her achievements in 2020.