How to get into #construction: students' stories

Construction is one of the UK’s fastest growing industries and is forecast to expand even more up to 2021, with the creation of some 179,000 jobs.

“The construction sector allows you to be part of something bigger. It’s really rewarding to be able to walk down the street and see a project you have been involved with.”

Lisa Playfair 

In 2017, some 2.6 million people are working in the sector – the highest number since the recession. But myths about the building sector still abound – it’s dirty, it’s old fashioned and not for the academically minded. The reality is that contracts are worth £billions, and there is a huge range of roles. There are many ways to get into the sector – Traineeships, Apprenticeships, vocational qualifications and graduate schemes. Here we quiz some young professionals to find out how they began. 

LISA PLAYFAIR, 23.

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Lisa joined a graduate scheme at construction services company ISG in 2015 after completing a degree in architectural technology. She now works as an assistant site manager.

“I came across ISG at a careers fair during my final year and thought it was a great way to get on-the-job training. I think my time at university has helped me become more professional and improved my communication – I certainly write better emails now. I think doing a degree also opened my eyes

to the different roles available in the sector – I wouldn’t even have known site management was a “thing”. What I learned during four years is directly applicable to the work I do now.

“I spent my time on the graduate programme working on site, mainly focusing on site management. My first project was a small retail space so I could get really involved with all aspects of the construction and I learned a lot in a short space of time. I then moved to

a more logistically challenging project – a 145-bed hotel in Edinburgh. I really enjoyed it, every day was different and the project required a lot of problem solving and coordination.

“I finished the graduate programme this year and I’m now working as an assistant site manager on one of our technology projects.” 

 

ALI LOCKYEAR, 24.

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Ali is completing a three month paid internship in sales and marketing at EnviroBuild, a supplier of green and sustainable building materials and solutions. He focuses on sales and graphic design.

“Previously, I’d worked for an interior design company, so construction wasn’t a complete unknown. My decision
to make a career within the sector came about by chance – but I wouldn’t look back now. I studied economics and business at Cardiff University. EnviroBuild seemed like a promising fast growth start-up with a genuine interest in sustainability and generating what I would call ‘social capital’. As an economics student interested in helping businesses to tackle social issues, this seemed like a pretty good company to get involved with.

“I’ve attended weekly meetings and monthly seminars, and the whole experience has helped me develop business acumen and professional awareness - and I’ve witnessed first hand what it takes to run a successful business from the ground up. Schemes like these are a good experience for anyone interested in getting an overview of what it’s like to work in this environment.

“I wouldn’t say I suffered from any first day nerves, but working in a smaller business and in such a close-knit office, you certainly can’t hide. But everyone’s so welcoming, so this isn’t such a bad thing. One of the most valuable parts of this job has been seeing how the managing director shows such a genuine interest in growing a business that works for everyone involved.”

BECKY MUNRO, 21.

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Becky is a permanent way technician within the rail sector at Mott MacDonald, where she’s worked
on major projects including London Waterloo Station and the Thameslink mainline rail route. She completed a BTEC level 3 Apprenticeship in Civil Engineering. She’s been awarded Best Apprenticeship Under 25 at the 2017 Women in Construction Awards, Apprentice of the Year (19+) at BTEC’s Awards, and Apprentice of the Year at the 2017 Rail Staff Awards.

“I did really well at GCSE – getting A*s in all science subjects and strong results in maths so I wanted to choose a career which would reflect this. This Apprenticeship meant that I would have the chance to work alongside some experienced people, and continue studies one day a week at college.

“At work I’m mainly office-based producing engineering design solutions for track alignment - which means designing the running rails which trains run on. I also undertake gauging analysis which involves checking how my designs work alongside structures such as stations, platforms, bridges and tunnels. I’ve also had the chance to go out on site to do surveys and laser sweep profiles – these are a brilliant way to survey the profile of a tunnel – the output gives a visual representation of the shape of the tunnel and any pipes or obstructions within it.

“I chose this field because of the huge impact engineering has on society. I passed my technical professional review with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) meaning I’m now professionally qualified. My ambition within the construction industry is to continue to progress with my degree and eventually become a chartered civil engineer.

“Civil engineering is diverse and offers a rewarding career with huge prospects; there are always new challenges – you can work and travel all over the world."

 

JARRAD EDWARDS, 28.

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Building surveyor Jarrad Edwards left school in 2005 aged 16 to complete an Apprenticeship as a bricklayer. He went on to join a trainee scheme at project and programme management consultancy Faithful+Gould (F+G) and gained a BSc (Hons) in Building Surveying.

“Coming from a trade background, I’m used to speaking to people around the sites – I understand the different trades so it makes communication easy. When I left school, I didn’t know roles such as buildings surveyor existed. There was a general lack of knowledge about different routes in if you didn’t have A Levels, but I applied directly to F+G and they advised me. I’ve honestly never felt at a disadvantage – people in this sector take you for who you are. If you commit to hard work, doors will always open.

“Building surveying is a diverse profession and there are so many opportunities – some people I studied with are now working on some prestigious heritage buildings – it can be glamorous

“As a surveyor, you’re involved in the design, construction and management of buildings. My role varies from project management, where I’m accountable for the everyday running of projects, to refurbishment and condition surveys, where I diagnose issues and defects. I mostly work on school buildings and the “blue light” sector – buildings associated with emergency services.

“It’s a fantastic feeling to see something in real life that you’ve spent hours designing and creating a solution for. Finding outI was shortlisted for (professional body) RICS Matrics Young Surveyor of the Year 2017 has been the highlight of my career so far.

“I love the different types of work in my role – you meet so many people and become a key motivator for everyone involved.

“Shorter term, I’m aiming for chartered status. In the longer term, I’d like to see how far I can go within the industry.”

ALEX PARSONS, 28.

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Alex Parsons is investment and development manager at Kajima, where she focuses on commercial property across London. She completed a degree in construction engineering management at Loughborough University in 2011.

“I’ve seen the best views of London from construction sites. You can see things behind the scenes that other people can’t see – it’s fantastic. You can look at the concrete and steel buildings in London that will stand for years and think ‘that’s something I helped build’.

“I wish someone had told me about the sector when I was at school. I’d always thought it involved learning a trade such as carpentry or plumbing. But there’s a whole other side that no one ever mentioned – structural engineering, sustainability and much more. It’s not just walking around a site in steel capped boots.

“The industry relies on so much team work. Early mornings on cold winter days did take a bit of getting used to. It’s very social - when you pop in for a cup of tea you find everyone is in the same boat. Your team becomes like a family.

“Originally, I wanted to study sport, but my dad warned me good jobs were tough to get. I read about the construction degree and thought, why not try it?

“I did two placements during my degree at a couple of London hospitals. As a young woman I was definitely in a minority. It was character building. I went in believing everyone wanted to be my friend and there wouldn’t be a problem – we’re all just people at the end of the day.

“My best moment was becoming chartered with the CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building). It takes hard work and effort but it’s good to get a letter of congratulation – that moment takes a long time to fade.” 

Read our special report into Careers in Construction sponsored by Awarding Organisation NOCN

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