The industry includes an impressive range and variety of roles – but unless you are on the inside it can be hard to know how to break in, let alone progress to the top. In this new series, we talk to professionals about their often surprising career twists and turns

BTFC 3x2

Damilola Ola

How long have you been working and what is your current job?

I joined Mount Anvil as an assistant site manager three years ago. At that time, I didn’t have much knowledge about the company, but I found the recruitment process pretty streamlined, and I enjoyed my interview.

Initially the job offer was for 12 months and I felt that the experience I was going to gain, which also meant moving to a different city, would be valuable and worth the risk. Three years later, it clearly was!

What were your first career ambitions? Would your 16-year-old former self be surprised at what you’re doing now?

At 16, I had no set career ambitions. My main focus was to get into a good college and pick subjects that would open up doors. That said, I have always loved a good challenge and trying out new things, so me now working in the construction industry does not sound too surprising.

When did you first start thinking about a career in construction and why?

During the summer before I went to university. I had initially applied for the chemical engineering course at university, but I felt it did not suit my personality. I then started looking through different university websites and found out about the construction management course.

I did not know what I was getting myself into, but it was really unique, which in a way got me curious and excited. I also did not know anyone who had done the course or who had worked in the industry. So I had no information, no prior knowledge or awareness of the industry and the opportunities available.

Who or what helped you get where you are today?

Having a great support system (ie my family, friends and church) really encouraged me to take on what seemed to be a challenging and slightly unconventional path. This was instrumental in helping me find my way into the industry.

Did your choice of subjects/qualifications in education help or hinder you getting a job in the sector?

My university degree in construction management really laid the foundation. Being able to work and learn about the different disciplines within the construction industry – including quantity surveyor, building surveyors, civil engineers – really broadened my knowledge and understanding of how everything comes together. However, nothing beats the wealth the knowledge you learn while on the job.

Have you had to overcome any other barriers to get where you are today?

I think I overcome barriers every day, both on a personal and professional level. Each day comes with its own dynamic challenges, especially as a young woman working in my role. However, these challenges also keep me on my toes and gear me up for further development and growth.

What do you know now about the industry that you wish you knew when you were at school?

Everything! I had no insight into the industry at all and would have really benefited from knowing about all the different opportunities available within construction.

Having other women to look up to, understanding the impact of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, knowing what progression looked like within the different roles are all insights that would have driven my motivation a lot sooner.

What surprised you about the industry as a new starter?

How fast paced the industry is, and the lack of women working on construction sites. That said, the industry is taking a lot of steps to make the sector more inclusive and I am proud to be doing my part in making a positive change for women in construction.

What are the best and hardest bits of your job?

One of the best parts is definitely how dynamic and variable each day is. You meet so many people from different backgrounds, nationalities, and personalities, which is super exciting.

On the other hand, I think one of the most challenging bits of the job is people management. Although being around a dynamic range of people is exciting, it also comes with its shortcomings – meeting individuals who are not progressive or respectful in their views towards the industry.

For someone coming through the school system now, what advice do you have about choosing a construction-related career?

Be open minded, try to find some work experience opportunities, and seek a mentor. This I believe leads to better knowing your strengths, and as a result what you bring to a company and the role you are best suited to.

Mount Anvil’s joint initiative with the GLA, Makers & Mentors, aims to improve access to the construction sector for diverse groups through various networking events, work placements and workshops, which is a great opportunity for anyone coming through the school system and looking to start a career in the construction industry.

What one thing would you change to make finding a career in the built environment sector easier?

More practical opportunities made available for individuals to discover the real-life experiences of working in the industry. Also, raising awareness and the opportunities available within the industry and showcasing career progression through means directly available to young people, such as via school visits and social media.