Changes do happen; more and more women enrol in technical colleges
Master of Mechanical Engineering Iva Condrić is the head of the Maintenance Coordination Service in the Thermal Power Plant Sector of HEP Proizvodnje d.o.o – a company belonging to the elektroprivreda (HEP) concern. She is one of the few managers of technical services at HEP Proizvodnja.
We met Ms Iva Čondrić at her workplace in Vukovarska street in Croatia, smiling and relaxed. The frequent ringing of the phone, which she will turn off for a while, and a pile of documents on the table, papers, books, magazines, who knows what else, is very revealing. It tells how many strings have to be pulled to keep the complex technical systems of thermal power plants functioning. We asked her how she would describe her education.
– I don't think that there are interesting peculiarities here, she explains.
– I finished elementary school in Trešnjevka, Zagreb, then I attended and graduated from the 10th high school and entered the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Shipbuilding in Zagreb. But, when you start working, education doesn't stop. I don't even know how many seminars, training courses, congresses I have attended. I have also passed the professional exam for a certified engineer. After completing my studies, I worked for a short time at VIP, and then I got a job at HEP.
Maybe the peculiarity is that you were probably one of the few girls, women, who enrolled in the study of mechanical engineering.
– That's right, there were only seven girls out of 420 students. During my studies, I had several friends among my colleagues and only one female friend. Quite simply, a few of us girls scattered across various fields of study. Today it is already different, the number of female students at FSB and at FER may have increased tenfold. Even today though, 80 percent of students at technical faculties are male.
Men and women have the same reasons for enrolling in engineering studies; interest in natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, desire to establish themselves in well-paid and dynamic jobs. They are equally capable, however...
– Prejudices and division into male and female occupations still prevail.
Research has shown that, depending on the part of the world, men make up 80 to 90 percent of engineers in companies. Some women swayed by prejudice give up engineering studies or finish them and engage in other jobs. Have you had bad experiences, with regard to the "male studies", then the "male occupation" you have acquired and the "male job" you perform?
– Relatively often!
– Occasionally in business circles, occasionally in private ones. One way or another.
I still have a hard time understanding it.
– Some colleagues, friends, and acquaintances from time to time compliment my appearance, nice outfit. I don't think the least bad about them because I believe, I'm sure they don't have any bad intentions, well...
... but it is still about our patriarchal stereotype according to which it is desirable that a woman is always beautiful, well-dressed.
And for a woman to compliment men like that... However, when I asked you the question, I was referring to your engineering occupation and leading position in the maintenance sector.
– Occasionally. I had a bad experience already during my studies. Interestingly, my colleagues accepted me very well, there were never any doubts or teasing, but at some point a professor asked me if I had mistakenly entered the door of the faculty, with the illusion that the door of the Faculty of Philosophy was a hundred metres away. It was a stressful moment, but I decided to prove to him and to myself that I came to study at the right door.
I know quite a few great professors from technical studies, but this attitude is very sad.
– I don't think it happened often. All in all, I got encouragement from that situation. Today, it can happen that my colleagues are surprised behind my back: a woman, a machinist, a maintenance manager... I lead a meeting, we solve a problem, and I'm the only woman among men! I'm not saying it's a rule. Even the opposite; just as the vast majority of professors supported female students during their studies, the vast majority of my colleagues are also great, they support me, they don't let those who are surprised say a single unargued word against women in engineering. So I don't feel the least bit of pressure, frustration. In the end, we are maintainers who make sure in every way that our facilities work and function as well as possible. I have no problem with a prejudiced minority.
How was your journey from an engineer in the maintenance sector to a service manager?
– Some processes took place in parallel. HEP, as well as HEP Proizvodnja, is a large company. On the one hand, it takes half a year to get to know all the sectors, the way they work. At the same time you are educated about the tasks, the work you need to do. At the same time, the maintenance service was developing, the systematisation of workplaces was changing... I personally tended to connect management systems. When I got hired, I found a maintenance management system, but each plant had its own separate system, and you could never see the whole. True, each system is special, but even those seven parts must have some common denominators - and as far as the organisation of production, work, procurement, maintenance, costs... Analytics have shown that some things can be optimised in terms of working methods, material, and human resources. HEP-Proizvodnja has a well-known product – electricity, and the savings are the result of technological and business improvements, it cannot be the other way around. Even today, process optimization is one of the focuses of my interests.
Let's go back to HEP and the current crisis on the energy market. I assume that, in the last decade and a half, neglected thermal power plants suddenly found themselves in the focus of interest in this situation.
– No, thermal power plants were never neglected, their operation was optimised in accordance with market requirements. You must look at the bigger picture. For now, you cannot satisfy the market with electricity from renewable energy sources. Wind farms produce electricity only when the wind blows. Photovoltaic cells produce only during the day, if it's sunny, more, if it's cloudy, less. And we use electricity when it is cloudy and when there is no wind, both during the day and at night. Electricity from hydropower plants is the most favourable according to some parameters but look at what happened this year: from spring to today, there was very little rain, reservoirs are empty, and it happened that thermal power plants in the system of covering the needs of the electricity market produced more than hydropower plants. At the end of 2022, production from thermal power plants and hydropower plants is expected to equalise.
How many power plants do we have in Croatia and how much electricity do we get from them?
– HEP-Proizvodnja manages 26 hydroelectric power plants, seven thermal power plants, one non-integrated solar power plant (until the end of 2022 and another) and 15 integrated solar power plants installed on the roofs of our operating buildings, whose produced electricity we use for our own consumption. The system primarily receives electricity from renewable sources and from a nuclear power plant that works constantly, and then electricity from other sources. We meet 70 to 75 percent of our needs from Croatian sources. The rest of the electricity is imported.
You personally manage the coordination service for thermal power plant maintenance. Where are they located?
– Thermal power plants are located in Plomin, Rijeka and Jertovec, and thermal power plants-heating plants in Zagreb (two), Osijek and Sisak.
– Yes, KTE Jertovec in Hrvatsko zagorje is a so-called intervention power plant. If needed, it can be online in eleven minutes.
Are new technologies being invested in thermal power plants?
– Investments are made in reducing emissions (DeNOx), trying to reduce them correctively, strengthening preventative and predictive maintenance, modernising and improving safety for work, the environment. Two blocks in our TE-TO in Osijek and Sisak run on biomass.
The thermal power plant in Rijeka was abandoned ten years ago
– The plant was not abandoned. TE Rijeka stopped production seven years ago due to non-competitiveness on the market due to the high price of fuel oil, the power plant was partially conserved, but basic maintenance, i.e. legal obligations, was carried out for 7 years. Since there has been a disruption in the market with high gas prices, the constant production of electricity throughout the world is uncertain. In this regard, TE Rijeka is preparing for possible production.
I suppose that the restart of production was prompted by the general energy crisis caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the sanctions against Russia and the resulting chaos.
– That is correct, but I have already mentioned to you that this year the hydrological conditions in Croatia were very unfavourable - a dry year, and that without electricity from the thermal power plants we would be in great trouble.
Is there a problem of pollution and is there resistance to the start-up of the Rijeka Thermal Power Plant?
– TE Rijeka is located southeast of Rijeka at the Urinj location. Construction of the thermal power plant began in 1974 with an installed capacity of 320 MW. At the time of commissioning, it was among the largest production facilities in Croatia.
HEP respects the highest standards of production and environmental protection, and each plant has a valid environmental permit for operation. Of course, some people were worried, but I believe that the situation needs to be looked at from several angles. In the end, we all need electricity, people need to heat, cook, light up spaces, machines need to work.
Is it a big challenge to start the operation of a technical system after seven years?
– Yes, there were problems, there are still some, but we are solving them successfully. If anyone didn't do a job for seven years, they would find themselves in trouble. If you didn't write for almost a decade, I assume that you personally would have a problem reactivating yourself.
Now we come to an interesting problem that has been discussed in maintenance and management circles for years, namely the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing. About twenty years ago, there was a trend to move transport, maintenance - everything that is not the main focus of production out of the company. Outdoor maintenance has some advantages, but over the years we have also come to know the disadvantages. Companies that provide outsourcing services change, employees change, engineers and technicians come from other parts of the world - other languages, technical cultures... Before outsourcing, some John or Steve lived with the plant. He maintained, for example, the boiler and knew at first sight when it was not working properly. He knew it by the sound, the vibrations. He knew how to train him in the shortest possible time. Today we lack some of those skills.
Finally, do you have any message of encouragement for future engineers, women in technical professions, in technical sciences, in maintenance?
– During my studies, together with my colleagues, I participated in the founding of the Association of Students of Industrial Engineering and Management (SIIM), which still operates at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Shipbuilding in Zagreb, and which is part of the European Association of Students of Industrial Engineering and Management (ESTIEM). It is a non-profit, non-governmental student association that aims to connect students who combine technological understanding with management skills. The goal is to foster relationships among students across Europe, support them in their work, and encourage girls and women to pursue these professions. While working in the association, I met a lot of wonderful people - both men and women - who today are experts in their fields, who do very diverse and even leading jobs. I always encourage women to pursue engineering jobs. I also persuaded my younger sister, who is now in her fifth year at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Shipbuilding, to do so. Any team with both men and women is stronger than one with only men or only women.
Thanks to the work I do and involvement in the association during my studies, I know a lot of female engineers – in Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Turkey, Serbia..., not to mention, all over Europe. All of them are very, very successful, and a large number of them have received doctorates or are in the process of receiving doctorates. On average, women in engineering are few but very successful. Unfortunately, it is still easier for them abroad, because in Western European countries they got rid of gender prejudices before us. But I can say in that regard, things are changing for the better in Croatia too!
Mr Krešimir Brandt, HDO
Safe and Healthy Work in the Digital Age" is the title of the new edition of EU-OSHA's Healthy Workplaces Campaign, which commenced in October. The campaign's objectives are to increase awareness, encourage collaboration, and establish a future where occupational safety and health continue to be a top priority alongside technological advancement.