The industry includes an impressive 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

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

I began working in the construction industry soon after I left the sixth form at school. Here I am three and a half years later! My current job role is assistant quantity surveyor and I am based at a mixed-use development project in Kings Cross.

Sean O'Regan McLaren

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

When I was younger, I was thinking about a football career. As you can guess, that one didn’t work out, so I became more realistic. I began to think about following in footsteps within my family and pursuing a career in construction. Looking back now, I don’t think my 16-year-old self would be too surprised that I ended up in the industry.

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

I think part of me always knew that I was going to choose construction as my career, but it was more about finding the right role for me. While still in secondary school I would often spend my half-terms or summers helping my family with extensions or other building tasks round the house. This sparked a passion to be a part of a team and watch a development or a project knowing I have had an impact on it.

Who or what helped you get where you are today?

I most definitely owe a great deal of thanks to McLaren as a company for the position they have put me in today. The people within the business – from trainee to director level – are approachable and assist with any questions to support my development and are at the same time dedicated to providing me with the core surveying skills needed to succeed.

The McLaren trainee programme offered me the chance to expand my learning via an HNC and then onto a degree. This was something I was very keen on, first and foremost because I knew one of the major barriers to progress was my lack of technical understanding. With the vastness of the industry and the plethora of rules and regulations it was important I gained a full understanding of this. 

Initially the HNC gave me the foundations and base knowledge that soon enough I was able to benefit from at work. Undertaking academic studies one day a week and working four days a week was ideal as what I learnt in and out of the classroom I was able to implement on the job – and vice versa.

Everyone at McLaren is keen to help with my development, which is evident with the continued support for me achieving positive university results and a qualification.

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

My subjects in the sixth form helped me achieve the required UCAS points to begin an apprenticeship. While they did not directly relate to surveying, they gave me a key understanding of the business world and the importance of reporting costs.

From the outset, I set myself the goal of achieving a first in my degree. I wanted to ensure the opportunity of further education would benefit me during my career, so I was intent on using and maximising this opportunity.

Once I began the course, I had the flexibility to guide my own learning a little more and choose an area of construction that most interested me.

My degree was credited by the CIOB with a certificate of excellence. This is something I am immensely proud of as the knowledge I developed during my five years of study will set me in good stead in my career.

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

I noticed straight away a general gap between my knowledge and others who were more experienced within the industry – and this of course was initially a challenge. As I started to hear technical language being used, I assumed that I had to understand everything straight away, which isn’t true.

However, I often found myself involved in commercial debates and challenges with others who were vastly more experienced. This is not something to worry about at all, as asking questions is the key to succeeding. In fact my initial lack of knowledge became a source of motivation to go a step further.

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

Surveying is a lot more than just counting bricks! There is so much to get stuck into, develop your knowledge on and improve core skills.

What surprised you about the industry as a new starter?

The sheer detail that goes into each project. I have witnessed my current project progressing from a hole in the ground to complete frame and internal fit-out. One thing is for sure, you never get to grasp the knowledge and detail that goes into a construction project from outside the hoarding!

What are the best and hardest bits of your job?

Managing sub-contractors from a commercial point of view to ensure positive cash positions for the project and the business is one of the best bits. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that my hard work is benefiting your company.

The hardest part is finding that bit of motivation to open your laptop again at home for university work. Time management is key to overcoming this and becomes easier after a while. It’s all worth it in the end.

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

The obvious bit of advice I can give is to make sure that a construction career is for you – don’t rush into it. Be patient and research what areas suit your skills, as there is such a variety of job opportunities within the industry.

I would also recommend that you show that you are proactive and keen for the opportunity wherever you are applying. Reaching out to companies first through a simple phone call or an email to introduce yourself can go a long way in ensuring you stand out.

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

Visits from construction companies to colleges, sixth forms and other educational institutions. This could significantly benefit both parties as it is an early opportunity to promote the industry to students while allowing students to gain early and direct contact with companies who are actively looking to offer careers.