Time flies when you’re having fun. That’s the sentiment that Mette Sloth, Vice President of Bridge Operation & Maintenance and Steel, expresses when looking back at her last 22 years with COWI.
“If you had asked me when I first joined COWI if I thought I would stay with the company for this long, I would have said no. I’m sure if you ask a career planning expert, they would certainly not advise staying with the same company for this long,” jokes Mette. “But I don’t think it is the same company that it was – in a good way.”
Mette’s career with COWI began in 1995. After finishing her Master’s degree and taking some time off for the birth of her first child, she attended a training course for job applications to prepare herself for entering into the job market.
“They asked us at the very beginning of the course to describe our dream job, which I did, and a week later I saw that exact same job description advertised at COWI. It was one in a million. Luckily, I got the job and it’s been my one and only working place as an engineer. It was really meant to be.”
Growing with the company
Mette explains that the company, and more specifically her department, have grown immensely over the past 10-20 years, and it’s still growing and becoming even more international.
“One of the biggest advantages is that you can build a really big network. Whatever challenge you face, you’ll know who to consult or where to get advice,” says Mette. “Plus, I really enjoy the working atmosphere – the flat organisational structure means we trust each other and can be very open and honest.”
Mette has had the opportunity to work on a wide portfolio of highly complex local and international projects, alongside many new and highly skilled team members. Her responsibilities have grown as well; starting as a structural engineer, she’s worked her way all the way through the organisation and was named Vice President in 2015.
Even though she misses the technical work a little bit, the new challenges that come with her VP role are even more exciting. The most important area of focus for her though is people management:
“Our core asset at COWI is our people, so one of my key priorities is making sure everyone on the team is happy and growing their potential through stimulating project work.”
Investing in innovation
Mette appreciates being part of developing the business and seeing new ideas come into life. She recounts participating in a VP training course in 2015.
“I was paired up with Søren Vosgerau Jespersen and Andriy Dzekanyuk from the mapping and geo services department and we were given the challenge of coming up with an idea on how we could combine our services.”
The team began looking at how drone inspections could benefit the bridge operation and maintenance business and how this would be beneficial for our clients. With input from Mette, Andriy took the idea from there and convinced the company to invest in a new tool and the resources needed to support the development.
The result was the COWI Virtual Inspection (CVI) tool, a unique way of inspecting infrastructure projects, based on huge amounts of collected images from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones. The tool allows COWI engineers to conduct visual screenings and inspections seamlessly in a virtual environment from the office, rather than from lifts, cranes or rope access, improving safety for workers, value for money, and efficiency.
Today the tool is being used by one of our major clients in the bridge business line, Sund & Bælt, the owner of the Great Belt Link, as they have a strong focus on increased digitalisation in operation and maintenance.
“I think it’s really an innovative step forward for the inspection business and we have subsequently developed a number of spinoff tools from it. I’ve come to learn that if we, as COWI employees, have a great idea, the company will invest in innovation and support our development.
Well positioned to push boundaries
When asked what the future holds in the field of Operation & Maintenance over the next decade, Mette hints that advances within digitalisation will help push COWI forward:
"I think it’s important for us to focus on developing the right tools and processes that our clients will benefit from the most. Lately, we’ve been focussed on drones and artificial intelligence, because this is where our clients can reap the most rewards. In the coming 5-10 years, we’ll also be looking to develop new solutions within data management, robotics, and combining asset management with BIM and 3D modelling.”
However, Mette points out that there is one major challenge with this: finding the right people with the right technical skills sets, who are also personable and visionary.
“This is a very exciting time to be in the industry. We are a growing business with exciting multi-disciplinary, international projects. I'm looking forward to what the next decade has in store.”