KL Engineering

Women In Construction Tech

Kim Lobdell shares her journey as an engineer in construction Tech

Customer Spotlight May 2020

Aurigo’s Customer Spotlight highlights Masterworks or Essentials users who have a story to share. Kim Lobdell has been a Masterworks user through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for 3 years. She was gracious enough to sit down with our writer on staff to share her inspiring story.

Kim Lobdell, owner of KL Engineering, is the success story the women’s STEM movement is looking for. The US Bureau of Labor found that women accounted for 13% of the engineering workforce in 2019. Lobdell earned her engineering degree in 1979.  Entering a field in a time when she knew she would be the only woman on her team, she faced the obstacles of having to prove herself and gain the respect of her peers and superiors. Imagine their shock when they realized they had underestimated the girl with the sweet midwestern accent. 

Growing up in Wisconsin, Lobdell was one of four kids in an active, outdoorsy family. She describes herself as a good student that was interested in learning, especially science and math. She participated in a well-rounded group of activities during high school from math club to manager of the basketball team. While everyone urged her to follow a career path leading to teaching or accounting due to her love of learning and numbers, she chose to follow her heart. The summer between her sophomore and junior year in high school, she attended a Women in Engineering camp at Michigan Technical University. The rest is history.

Attending Michigan Technical University afforded her many opportunities to get her feet wet in the field.  She discovered her passion was civil engineering, which was the perfect mix of design, construction and working with people. After graduating, being the one of few female applicants opened up many job opportunities. She found herself working for General Motors in an Oldsmobile plant during the time that American made cars were still the in thing. Lobdell took the job because she thought transportation could be her special interest. The first six to eight months her supervisor had her reading manuals and little else. She was left to wonder if she had worked so hard just to be ignored. Eventually she confronted him about his lack of engaging her skills in the workplace, but she said the relationship was awkward and never really evolved.  Soon after that the more economic foreign made cars were on the scene and the mood in the factory went south along with sales. She took this opportunity to start fresh with a job search out west. Even through such a trying and difficult season in her life, Lobdell is still able to see the wisdom gained from the experience. “Learning what you don’t like is just as important as what you do like,” Lobdell says, reflecting on her first job. She shares this wisdom with other young women coming into the field.  Don’t be afraid to try things.

The lack of female friends in the workplace prompted Lobdell to do exactly what she had sworn off doing, go back to college. She longed to find a social outlet. One course led to another, which led to another until the college was asking if she planned on declaring a major.  She graduated with her MBA from the University of Wyoming. Lobdell comments that this was one of the best things that ever happened for her.  The technical and business aspects of her degree would serve her well in the future. The pieces were falling into place that led to her next career shift.   

Two kids later, Lobdell and her husband chose to move back home to Wisconsin to be near family. She had an offer from the owner of the firm she was working for to start down the path of becoming partners. It was tempting to think about but putting the needs of her family first, Lobdell stuck with her decision to return home.  However, the seed was planted for the dream of running her own engineering business. After four years of building connections and networking back in Madison while working for a consulting firm, Lobdell was urged to start her own business by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation under the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program. Two large firms had recently graduated from the program and they needed someone to give business to. The Wisconsin DOT was required to give 10% of any contract over $100,000 to the DBE’s and there were few qualified firms at that time. She decided that given this opportunity, she would go for it. She gave herself two years to find success. In 1991 she began her business. Small projects came filtering in which led to larger projects as she grew her business. Looking back, she shares that her greatest joy has been the look on everyone’s face when her company was selected for a multimillion-dollar project against other big-name firms.  They had earned the respect and reputation needed to compete in the marketplace.  It was at that point Lobdell felt that she had truly made it. 

When asked what she would change if she could go back and do it all again, Lobdell gives the answer we all desire to have the ability to give, “Not much. I’ve had a great career. I’ve had a great life.” She does have some regrets about prioritizing security over passions and dreams at times during her career journey. But for 29 years, KL Engineering has been a passion fulfilled and a dream that succeeded.

Along with more women co-workers, Lobdell also saw the role technology plays change throughout her career. She is part of the era that still remembers the ammonia stench that filled the rooms when they made their blueprints. She recognizes that technology makes things faster and cheaper. But when engineering lost the requirement of doing manual work and the thinking things through that came with it, common sense to some extent was also lost.  Engineers cannot rely solely on what the technology says will work. Lobdell urges her engineers to step back and look at things from a commonsense perspective to try to catch things that technology missed. When considering the strengths girls need to be competitive in the construction industry, Lobdell remarks that the construction industry has lagged behind the design industry quite a bit.  We need envelope pushers to catch it up. “Don’t be afraid to fail,” Lobdell advises the girls interested in pursuing construction field opportunities. “But if you fail, fail forward. Learn from your mistakes”

Many can be thankful for Kim Lobdell and women like her.  Not only does her career journey speak of her grit and determination, it stands as an inspiration to a generation of math minded, curious young women and girls who dare to follow their dreams and enter what has been a man’s world. 

Kim Lobdell
President, KL Engineering

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