Eight years ago, Michaeline Sovek-Sael was an administration assistant at a top civil engineering and construction company, where she developed an interest in road maintenance and construction. Fast forward to 2022 and she is part of a handful of Papua New Guinean women who now run their own road construction companies.
Sovek-Sael’s company, Jay-M Contractors Limited, is currently working on a maintenance works contract along a 500 metre section of the Kokopo-Keravat Road in East New Britain. The roadwork is funded by the Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership’s Transport Sector Support Program (TSSP).
She has previously worked on two other maintenance contracts also funded by TSSP since breaking out of her administrative role.
Jumping into the industry as both a new business owner and a woman, Sovek-Sael described the journey as a significant learning experience.
“I knew a lot of the theory of the road maintenance and construction industry from my previous employer. But when it came to managing my own business, everything became much more practical.
“While I knew about cement works and drainage, I found myself learning how to do simple things like hold a shovel and dig correctly and to use an engine propelled concrete mixer.”
So far, her experience with road works is in building roadside drainage.
Sovek-Sael explains that good drainage along roadsides allows water to run off into culverts and away from the road, ensuring greater safety for road users.
Heavy rainfall is a problem in East New Britain, where Sovek-Sael’s company is based, and roads are often damaged as a result, so good drainage is the key to maintaining road networks.
As a business owner, Sovek-Sael feels empowered to be wearing a new hat as a professional in the road and construction industry.
“For me, the PNG-Australia Partnership has been very helpful for small companies like mine. I have been able to provide employment for my staff where they are able to take money back into their villages and sustain their families and send their children to school.
“On top of that, our work is improving road conditions, especially with drainage works that we do.”
Sovek-Sael highlighted that this business does come with challenges such as rainy weather conditions, which slows down work. Still, she would not trade the role for anything.
“I decided that this is an easier job than sitting inside an office – it’s more enjoyable.
“I get to meet more people and learn a lot of new things.
“Right now, we are working on the last 25 metres of our drainage wall – that is a testament to how we have overcome various difficulties.”
Seeing women like Sovek-Sael opens more doors for other women who may not entirely understand the opportunities in the road sector. It also diminishes the stereotype that this industry is confined to only one gender.
Being in the middle of change, Sovek-Sael encourages others to stand up and join the road maintenance and construction industry.