The summer after my A-Levels – a temp job changed my life forever. I’d never known what I wanted to do until then, but the building blocks fell into place for my career in Quantity Surveying.
As part of Women in Construction Week (March 7-13), I’ve written an article about how I found construction, chose it as a career and how it’s treated me since.
I hope young women read it and look to construction as an option for their career if they haven’t yet thought of it, or had, but wanted to know more.
Construction still isn’t an industry that women naturally gravitate to. When I was young, if someone had suggested it to me, I would have said no thanks to the building sites, portable toilets and being out there in all weathers.
But that’s not all there is to it, there’s a whole range of roles that support the physical construction work without ever needing to pick up a spirit level!
Here’s how I came to construction – it wasn’t planned but I’m glad it happened!
How I found the path to construction and being a QS
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished my A levels. I enjoyed Business Economics, so I enrolled on a degree course for Business, with little idea what I wanted to do after that!
That summer I took on some temp work to earn some extra money and found myself temping as a receptionist for a main contractor in Maidstone.
I was fairly shy, so talking to people who came in was a huge boost to my confidence.
It opened my eyes to the world of construction. I met directors, HR managers, Quantity Surveyors, design managers, estimators and they were all so friendly, I didn’t want to leave by the time the contract was up!
I started researching the different roles in construction and after mentioning it to a family friend who happened to work in construction too, he suggested I consider Quantity Surveying, so I did.
I applied for trainee schemes offered by all the main contractors and changed my course to Quantity Surveying at Kingston University. I was then offered a role as a Trainee QS at Osborne which also offered to pay for my university degree if I studied on a day release basis, which meant I was able to study and work at the same time.
School was an indicator of my future career
I really enjoyed maths at school and all the sciences; I found them hard but I enjoyed them. I wish I had chosen to pursue maths a litter longer into A level on the basis that I enjoyed it but at the time I wanted to do easier subjects (albeit French was certainly not easier and was soon dropped!)
These subjects have formed the basis of my QS knowledge, training and continued development, but construction was never mentioned as an option.
I would love for young female students today to consider it if they enjoy these subjects too.
How I find the industry as a female
On the whole, it’s very supportive. There was a time when making tea was ‘my job’ – but I never took this personally or assumed it was because I was a female; I just put it down to being the most junior member of the team. Even now, if I am the most junior member in a board room meeting, I will happily make a round of teas and coffees; I think it shows respect and willing.
There have been some innocent stereotypical assumptions made when I have arrived on site to be asked if I am in the right place and a slight look of confusion when I announce I work there!
I also remember a previous employer looking for ways to promote women in construction and the suggestion was made that we all baked cakes to celebrate with our colleagues. Talk about completely missing the point…that memo was very swiftly amended!
Mostly, I’ve had some very positive and encouraging colleagues and management who have been very supportive of my career, who have considered me just as worthy of being there as they are.
What I’d tell my younger self about the industry
Don’t believe the stereotypes. It’s not all builders drinking tea and staring down a manhole at the side of the road, getting dirty, sitting around waiting for bricks to arrive.
Behind construction’s front line are people planning that build – using maths and science to ensure the construction type is right, the design works, is sustainable, enhances the local environment, is built properly and that the project is running to time and budget.
You don’t really know what it’s like until you’ve tried it, so try some work experience or a summer placement.
You never know, it might lead to a full-time job that you never knew you wanted!
What encouragement or advice would you give to the next generation of young women coming into the industry?
Be open-minded, be positive and don’t feel you have to pigeonhole yourself into a role. You may have a summer placement or work experience for bid writing or site management but ask questions about other roles, speak to people to find out what they do.
I guarantee someone you already know works in construction – it’s such a vast industry and many roles outside the immediate construction site are overlooked such as design management, quantity surveying, bid writing, estimating, construction law, accounting, finance, marketing, IT… the list is endless!
What makes me proud to work in construction
Saying: ‘I built that’ and contributing to the local communities where I live and work gives me a huge sense of pride.
The people – I love engaging with people and most people in construction have a good sense of humour and enjoy a drink or a bit of socialising too.
I still really enjoy meeting people from all different backgrounds and professions with different skill sets.
Even now, I still learn something new most days and I love that.
If you know a young woman considering a career in construction, I’d be happy to have a chat with them to help them research the sector.