Piling Canada

Usmaara Idrees

Passion for sustainability and innovation has large impact on approach to projects in her position at Menard Canada
Written by Lisa Kopochinski
March 2024

As a project engineer for Menard Canada in the company’s Toronto office, Usmaara Idrees is quite new to this position, having joined the team nine months ago after completing her undergraduate degree.

Under the leadership of Collin Spence, her main responsibilities include assisting with project feasibility assessments, engineering design for ground improvement programs, and on-site project reporting and quality assurance and quality control monitoring.

Prior to this position Idrees worked in Menards’ Hamilton office during her co-op internship for 16 months under the guidance of Neil Isenegger. She graduated from McMaster University earning a bachelor of engineering with a speciality in civil engineering in April 2023.

“I became interested in deep foundations during my undergraduate studies in civil engineering,” Idrees said. “A specialized foundations course and design-focused capstone project in university sparked my intrigue with the challenges of building strong and stable foundations for structures with various geotechnical challenges. Additionally, my first practical internship with Menard provided me with exposure to specialized engineering design, furthering my interest in the deep foundation industry.”

Idrees’ start as an intern with Menard Canada allowed her to gain practical experience with soil analysis and ground improvement design in the support of new construction. It also provided the opportunity to apply her theoretical knowledge to real-life situations and collaborate with seasoned professionals at the forefront of the ground improvement industry.

“I am eager to explore environmentally sustainable alternatives to conventional foundation support solutions.”

Usmaara Idrees, Menard Canada

“My passion for sustainability and innovation has a large impact on my approach to projects and my role,” she said. “I am eager to explore environmentally sustainable alternatives to conventional foundation support solutions. Working with ground improvement has allowed me to take part in the deliverance of environmentally conscious engineering, aligning with my personal values.”

She finds the deep foundations sector – in relation to ground improvement – exciting due to its pivotal role in the development of new and diverse structures.

“The prospect of contributing to projects that challenge the conventions of construction provides continual engagement. The dynamic nature of this industry and the potential it offers to shape the possibilities of construction drive my continued interest.”

Current projects

Presently, Idrees is involved in a range of projects that focus on designing and implementing ground improvement solutions – from mid-size residential buildings to large-scale industrial developments.

“The design focus of these projects is on providing adequate bearing capacity and settlement control within unfavourable soil conditions while mitigating the need for extensive earthworks or complex foundation designs,” she said.

Workers and heavy machinery on construction site
St. Patrick’s Catholic Elementary School, Hamilton, Ont.

Looking forward, she is eager to work on more complex and innovative projects that push the requirements of technological advancements in the deep foundations sector. She finds sustainability-driven projects particularly interesting as this aligns with her personal interests.

“The potential to collaborate with professionals in a range of industries such as environmental science is an exciting prospect. The dynamic nature of deep foundation projects offers continual learning and room for creativity,” she said.

Idrees says that a crucial part of being successful in the foundations industry requires strong analytical skills and attention to detail. The ability to assess ground conditions with various geotechnical intricacies and a problem-solving mindset are key attributes to success.

“Being proactive on projects and responding to variations between theoretical design and observed project conditions ensures the delivery of a safe and reliably supported product,” she said.

With respect to building and maintaining strong client relationships in the specialized foundations sector, Idrees says communication and commitment to delivering high-quality results are crucial.

“Providing regular updates on project progress, addressing any concerns promptly, meeting or exceeding project expectations are common tasks that contribute towards building a lasting professional relationship,” she said.

In the context of ground improvement, where the specifics of construction are not always common knowledge, “showcasing expertise and delivering real engineering value that reinforces a client’s confidence in our work also contributes to a strong relationship.”

Rearview of equipment vehicle on construction site
Student residence building for the University of Toronto Scarborough campus

As for strategies she has employed to drive sales growth and success in the deep foundations market, Idrees has taken a strong interest in using technology advancements to improve the quality of services and ease of operation by Menard. These include the use of sensors and instrumentation for high-level, quality monitoring, innovative construction materials for environmentally conscious projects and development of internal digital tools for smoother project processing.

“Staying at the forefront of these developments not only sets us apart from the market, but also helps raise the standards of design verification and monitoring by the industry. Menard is continuously exploring the development of in-house technologies to streamline project operations, improving the accuracy and efficiency of our services to drive sales growth,” she said.

Challenges and the future

When asked about some of the challenges she has overcome so far in a career that has been historically male, Idrees says she is proud to have attended a university where women make up 40 per cent of the incoming engineering class.

“As such, being a woman has not provided me with any significant challenges in navigating the industry. Rather, maintaining a balance between work and religious commitments has occasionally posed challenges,” she said. “I am grateful to have understanding colleagues and employers who respect diversity and offer religious accommodations when necessary, and believe this should be the standard across the industry.”

Supervising equipment operation
A total of 60 columns were installed through soft and oversaturated silts to control settlement and improve the bearing capacity of the individual footings for this industrial building in Brantford, Ont.

As for what the future of the deep foundations industry looks like, Idrees views it as very promising with industry trends pointing to a focus on more sustainable and economical construction.

“With the construction industry being responsible for a large portion of total carbon emissions, and zero emissions policies adopting eager reduction targets, the role of the deep foundations sector in meeting these ambitions will be critical,” she said.

As for her own future plans, she sees her career progressing from a project engineer to a leadership role. “I plan to pursue my professional engineering certification and remain actively engaged in the industry. Furthermore, I hope to advance my current role to be more involved in the research and development of new types of monitoring techniques, technologies and digital tools,” Idrees said.

She also attends events hosted by industry associations related to geotechnical investigation techniques. “As I am in the early stages of my career progression, I hope to expand my presence within these communities moving forward. I am eager to employ my ideas for advancement to drive the efforts of development within the deep foundations and ground improvement industry,” Idrees said.

When not working, Idrees enjoys activities that allow her to maintain a work-life balance. “These include spending time with my friends and family, and exploring a growing interest in baking.” Piling Canada

Category: Profile

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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.

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