How to grow a successful business: Claire Cusack, Human Resources Director at Suir Engineering Limited

by | Feb 22, 2023

‘Dream big, start small … but most of all start’

As the industry grows and strives to address issues like climate change, housing and infrastructure, more and more women are applying for construction roles.

That’s according to Suir Engineering Limited’s Human Resources Director Claire Cusack, who with more than 20 professional experience at senior HR level, is adept at recognising future trends when it comes to talent and adding value to the workplace.

Having recently been appointed her company’s first female director in Ireland – a proud moment – she is perfectly placed to offer an expert point of view on how best to build skills within the industry.

“Construction as a sector is one of the most exciting places to be right now,” she says. “I think there are a lot of misconceptions about traditional male cultures in construction, which we need to move on from to create new stories and perceptions.

“At Suir Engineering, eight per cent of the workforce is female and this is continuously growing. There are so many great career opportunities for women in construction. From traditional trade roles, quantity surveying, engineering, project management, health and safety – the sky’s the limit.”

Cusack is a firm believer that women are just as suitable for trade roles within the industry as men.

“We have doubled the number of female apprentices over the last 12 months, and I can safely say they add huge value to their teams in terms of diversity, reliability and productivity. Skilled trades require agility, balance, endurance and coordination and these are not gender specific skillsets,” she says.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges to creating workplace equality and diversity within the built environment.

Members of the Suir engineering team at the company’s Carlow base

“Our industry will need to embrace hybrid working and place a greater emphasis on work-life balance,” Cusack adds, herself a working mother.

“We need to promote more part-time working, and introduce flexible start and finish times, to support and encourage more working mothers to enter and stay in the industry.

“A site start of 7.30am is very difficult if a child has to be dropped to a crèche or childminder. We can inadvertently lose out on skills and talents if we do not embrace new ways of working.”

Originally from Dublin and now Kildare based, construction is a newly-adopted home for Cusack, who has immersed herself in the building world for just over a year now.

“I started my career on a HR graduate programme in manufacturing,” she says. “I progressed to taking the HR lead in a startup for an international health insurance company in 2000. This business grew to a 1,400 employee business across 27 countries.

“This was a rapid growth business and a privilege to have been part of it. It certainly prepared me for my role today.”

Cusack’s ultimate ambition is to see a culture of high performance become the norm within the workplace. The ongoing development of people, processes and technology is central to this.

“I’m a firm believer that HR plays a central role in business growth and success,” she adds. “By focusing on HR interventions to ensure we recruit and retain talent, we have the ability to deliver customer service and successfully differentiating our company in the market in return.”

Suir Engineering has recently commenced a Leading with Difference programme for senior leadership – an applied learning programme designed to build the capability of leaders and managers.

“It is all about leadership in practice and I am very excited to see this programme’s outcomes translate into the day-to-day running of our business and help shape and form a leadership culture for Suir Engineering.”

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson at the Annual Meeting 2013 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Copyright by World Economic Forum | Photo Michael Wuertenberg

A favourite quote from the author Simon Sinek, the unshakeable optimist known for having one of the most-watched TED talks, offers a glimpse into Cusack’s mindset. ‘Dream big, start small…. but most of all start!’

As someone who loves reading and politics (as well as travel, especially Italy, when time allows) this simple yet powerful edict leads purposefully to talk of Cusack’s very first female role model – former President Mary Robinson who went on to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“She is a huge advocate of education for girls, and with education greater opportunities exist,” she says. “Here in Suir we actively promote further education for all employees. We have been very successful with female employees commencing their employment in site administration roles who are now working in EHS or pursuing further studies in quantity surveying.

“Continuous learning and improving our skills should be prioritised throughout our working life.”

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