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From project management to travelling the world and training jiu-jitsu, this civil engineer is crushing it with Doublestar Drilling

By Paul Adair

 

You would be forgiven for not expecting that Pascale Léonard would turn out to become a civil engineer, planning out construction and deep foundation projects for Alberta-based Doublestar Drilling. To be fair, neither did she.

Growing up Léonard spent her days doing pretty much everything else, focusing on activities like music, art, dance and various competitive sports. However, she also expressed a natural inclination for STEM-related classes, which encouraged her to enrol with the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta in 2012, and helped her earn a bachelor of science in civil engineering four years later.

Degree in hand, Léonard was offered her first job in the industry as an earthwork project coordinator at Kichton Contracting out of Acheson, Alta., working on the Kinder Morgan Baseline Tank Terminal. Once the project was completed, Léonard was moved into the main office, where she would be assigned the role of project manager.

“The project that left the biggest impression on me – and diverted me from becoming an earthworks project manager – was my first piling project, CapitalCare Norwood in Edmonton,” said Léonard. “It was at that point where I felt that my career was taking shape and a passion for piling was growing. I made it clear to my colleagues that this was the division where I wanted to continue working and my enthusiasm for this kind of work continued to grow exponentially; and this is how I know that piling is for me.”

Piling has allowed Léonard to use the lessons learned in university in the real world, while presenting her with an unending learning curve. She considers herself fortunate to have worked alongside some of the best in the business and values the opportunity to be part of something bigger than herself.

“I like to challenge my brain and want to help build something that will be here long after I’m gone,” said Léonard. “As I continue my career, I look forward to working on piling projects across the country and – potentially – around the world. I know it will happen someday, and this knowledge helps keep me motivated.”

In April 2021, Doublestar Drilling, which has one of the largest fleets of drill rigs in Western Canada, was purchased by the owners of Kichton Contracting. This acquisition brought the vast general earthworks expertise of Kichton in the water/sewer and shoring/piling sector, together with Doublestar’s 38 years of experience serving the piling industry. Today, the companies are working together to provide competitive package pricing to complete projects from start to finish.

“I joined the team at Doublestar when Kichton Contracting transferred all of their shoring/piling personnel to the new sister company, which was an exciting transition for me because I knew we now had access to a wide array of new toys!” said Léonard. “Every day in this position is different; I spend my time estimating future work, discussing methodologies and designs for new projects, travelling to sites to review progress and helping bring solutions to existing challenges. This is the fun part of my job.”

As she prepared to enter the world of construction, Léonard was often cautioned that she would be somehow treated differently, that she might not be taken as seriously as her male counterparts and that she would find it difficult to fit in. However, the reality was that Léonard found a welcoming new home in piling that allowed her to rise to a higher standard and achieve success.

“When I became a project coordinator on my first jobsite, I had never worked in a male-dominated field before, I had never worked with heavy equipment and I had virtually no knowledge of the construction industry,” said Léonard. “On the other hand, what I did possess was an eagerness to learn and a strong desire to be exceptional at everything I set out to do. I was also blessed to have a tremendously skilled and knowledgeable team to support me, taking the time out of their busy days to show me the ropes, teach me about installation methods and explain the tricks of the trade, and I owe much of my success to them.”

Léonard views time management and resourcefulness as being huge assets when it comes to project management; traits she strengthened while obtaining her engineering degree. Other important skills are the ability to compartmentalize the task at hand effectively and to think through problems thoroughly, as well as to know when it’s time to ask for help.

For young women who are considering entering the construction field or deep foundations space, and wanting to thrive, Léonard suggests developing a sense of humour, as well as a thick skin. Even though the construction industry has improved leaps and bounds over the years, sexism will rear up at some point and you will need to know how best to deal with it head-on.

“Know when to ignore it, know when to stand up for yourself, know when to counter a ‘joke’ with a joke of your own, know when to set boundaries and – most importantly – never take it personally,” said Léonard. “Men tend to test themselves against each other and want to be surrounded by strong, solid people. This is the culture of the trade. When you can show that you too are strong and stable, trust is established and the work will prosper.”

Despite the significant advances the construction industry has made in regard to diversity and inclusion, there is still plenty of work in this area to be done. Léonard believes the key to improvement is in promoting and showcasing women currently working in the industry and demonstrating that working in construction does not necessarily mean wearing steel toe boots 12 hours every day. While some women might appreciate that aspect of the job, others will not.

“There are plenty of companies and boardrooms across the construction sector that desperately need a female perspective,” said Léonard. “So much more can be done in terms of marketing construction jobs to women. Even having been asked to be featured within the pages of Piling Canada has been a tremendous honour for me, and has helped me feel that much more settled and confident in the path I have chosen. And the more women who take this path, the easier it will be for others to follow in the future.”

Outside of her job, Léonard continues to seek out adventure and takes time to explore a new part of the world each year; whether that is travelling through Nicaragua, backpacking the Hawaiian Islands, dive training in the Philippines, learning about ancient medicines in Peru or training Muay Thai in Thailand. Most recently, she spent a month in Nepal, hiking 12 days through the Himalayas in the dead of winter to reach Everest Base Camp. When she has free time, Léonard is also an accomplished practitioner of jiu-jitsu and trains up to four times a week.

“There’s nothing that makes you forget about the day’s silly little stresses quite like fighting off a choke hold or almost breaking someone’s arm,” said Léonard. “Focusing on techniques while getting an intense workout leaves my body and mind feeling a sense of ease at the end of my day and, when I return to work, I have confidence in myself to take on the tasks and accomplish my goals.”

Looking ahead, Léonard will strive to acquire as much knowledge and ability in the construction profession and deep foundations field as possible, become regarded as an expert in her domain and then combine her love of travel with that of her work.

“We are asked to build, we are asked to restore, we are asked to build better and different,” said Léonard. “It falls on us within the construction industry to build for today and imagine the best for tomorrow. So long as this remains true, we will never be bored.” 

 

 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.