The Sky is the Limit in Underground Utilities



Hailey Edlebeck stumbled upon an internship in an industry she knew little about, but has since turned it into a prosperous career in trenchless construction.

From the time she took a couple of PLTW (Project Lead the Way) Civil Engineering and Architecture classes while attending Ashwaubenon High School in Wisconsin, Hailey Edlebeck knew she wanted to pursue some kind of career in a construction-related field. She just never anticipated finding her dream job in the underground utility industry.

“The utility industry and trenchless construction actually found me,” says Edlebeck, Project Manager at Michels Trenchless Inc., the underground utility construction arm of Michels Corporation, an energy and infrastructure construction company with more than 50 offices in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe.

Edlebeck first learned about Michels Trenchless while attending a career fair at her college in 2016. After chatting with the representatives, she decided to give them her resume.

“I ended up getting an interview for an internship,” Edlebeck recalls. “They asked me what I thought would be an interesting area of the company to work in. I thought about it a second and picked tunneling and trenchless construction. That’s something most people will never see, but it’s a really exciting part of the industry. I ended up getting that internship and the rest is history. I’ve been with the company for seven years now.”

Hailey Edlebeck (right) with co-worker Rachelle McDowell, a field engineer at Michels Trenchless. Photo courtesy of Michels Trenchless Inc.Edlebeck started her internship during her final year in college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she earned a degree in civil engineering. Underground utility wasn’t something that was talked about a whole lot during her academic years. Most of the attention was given to other facets of construction like roads and bridges, high-rise buildings and other structures.

“I knew the utility industry was out there, but I just never heard or learned that much about it,” Edlebeck says.

That was about to change.

From project engineer to project manager

Edlebeck began her internship with Michels Trenchless in May 2017, focusing mainly on tunnel and project engineering for roughly a year and a half. Then she began her full-time career as a field engineer before evolving into project management in July 2021. She’s been a lead project manager for the past two years.

Edlebeck is rather hands-on, working directly with superintendents and field engineers on a daily basis to make sure they have everything needed to successfully complete their work.

“My tasks range from resource planning and permitting, to client relations, work plans and technical submittals, and the list goes on,” Edlebeck relates. “Really, I just have to wear whichever hat is needed by the team that day. Sometimes I’m a project manager, and sometimes I’m a field engineer. Sometimes I’m a friend a team member can vent to, and other times I’m running around trying to find a hydraulic fitting that might not even be available in North America. Every day is always a bit different, presenting a new set of challenges and rewards. That is something I have really come to like.”

Edlebeck will often find herself working in a different city and state from one day to the next, too. She also enjoys that aspect of her job, not only because of the variety, but because it reminds her of the scope and importance of the work she and her team perform. “It’s hard to wrap your head around how much underground work is out there right now,” Edlebeck says.

Keys to professional growth

Edlebeck’s career is thriving, too. She’s a talented and driven individual working for a company that promotes professional growth and rewards hard work.

“I’ve been surrounded by people who have always had my back when I’m not in the room,” Edlebeck says. “Those same people will also provide honest feedback to help me learn and improve. And, most importantly, they are people who’ve always been willing to teach me everything they know. I’ve been very fortunate to have been mentored by some of the best people in the industry.”

Now as one of the leaders in the company, Edlebeck finds herself beginning to mentor some of her younger co-workers. “We interact daily and have conversations about what it takes to move up,” she says. “I feel like I can provide the same sense of security my mentors showed me when I was just getting started.”

“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Hailey over the past six years and watch her develop professionally,” says Adam Stremcha, General Manager of Trenchless Operations at Michels Trenchless. “Hailey pays meticulous attention to details and exhibits strong leadership qualities. Her ability to manage challenging projects in the trenchless industry is a testament to her work ethic and desire for excellence. As the industry continues to grow, not only within Michels but holistically, young leaders like Hailey will be instrumental in training and mentoring the next generation of trenchless leaders. I admire Hailey’s integrity and commitment to Michels and our industry, and look forward to seeing what she can accomplish next.”

Integrity and commitment are important qualities to have when establishing yourself in a construction company, especially as a young woman. Another thing that has helped Edlebeck is a willingness to get her hands dirty, even though it’s not necessarily in her job description.

“I’m a strong believer in bridging the gap between the field and the office,” Edlebeck says. “It’s one of the most important things a utility construction company can do. When the people who are designing, planning and bidding the work actually understand what the crews have to do, you’ll be much more successful at coming up with the best plan to get the work done.”

In her role as project manager, Edlebeck is actively on site throughout an entire project. But back when she was an engineer, she made it a point to get in the yard to help crews get equipment ready and learn how the equipment worked. She sought insights regarding equipment maintenance and troubleshooting issues in the field. “I wanted to understand what it truly took to get the job done, not just what was put down in a proposal,” Edlebeck says.

Today, as a project manager, Edlebeck remains cognizant that trust and respect are cornerstones of good co-worker relationships.

“It comes down to being personable, and recognizing that everyone has a difficult job to do to make it all come together in the end,” Edlebeck says. “Making that connection and building that trust is key. It’s also important to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m also big on asking questions, even the hard ones that nobody wants to answer. As a team, it’s important to learn from each other and the mistakes that are made.”

Building a great career can begin underground

Everybody makes mistakes, Edlebeck reminds, adding that she is no exception. One mistake she didn’t make, however, was choosing a career in the underground utility industry.

“This industry is evolving very quickly,” Edlebeck says. “There is always something to do and something new to learn. What’s been the most rewarding are the friendships I’ve made with some amazing people all over the country.”Hailey Edlebeck was all smiles at the machine launching ceremony for the Lake Ouachita Lake Tap Project for the city of Hot Springs, Ark. She’s pictured here with representatives from Hot Springs and Crist Engineering. Photo courtesy of Michels Trenchless Inc.

Edlebeck is eager to encourage other young women — and just young people in general — to take a look at what the utility construction industry has to offer. “Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know,” Edlebeck advises. “This industry is full of great people who will teach you what you need to know to be successful in this line of work.”

It’s also important to realize that a prosperous career doesn’t require you to operate heavy equipment or be on jobsites with crews every day. “In our company, there are positions in accounting, marketing, technical writing, graphic design, legal, safety, lab research, logistics, travel administration, and others,” Edlebeck points out. “There is literally something for everyone.”

For Hailey Edlebeck, that “something” does involve being out in the field. “I’m a hands-on person who has a really hard time sitting behind a desk,” Edlebeck reminds.

Michels Trenchless has been a great company to work for, providing Edlebeck with the support, resources and opportunities to prove herself and flourish over the past seven years. “I would not still be here if it wasn’t a great company to work for,” Edlebeck says. “I’m sure plenty of other companies do the same for their employees. But I’ve really liked my time here at Michels and can’t see myself being anywhere else.”

Hailey Edlebeck would never have guessed it 10 years ago, but she can’t see herself being in an industry other than underground utilities, either.

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