Construction professionals who volunteer their skills speak of the benefits that come to them - job satisfaction, improved skillset, a more open outlook and new relationships - and that’s before you consider the good it does to those they volunteer for

on site

on site

‘Volunteering has allowed me to meet and build relationships with many people across the industry who share the same passion.” This is one of the many benefits Jeremy Foster, a project director at Ramboll, says he has gained from offering his time and professional skills to charity (see more about his experiences of volunteering overleaf). And he is not alone - volunteering is a popular pursuit in this country.

According to the government’s latest Community Life survey published last July, 41% of people questioned reported volunteering through an organisation at least once in the previous year in England. A quarter (27%) said they were regular volunteers taking part at least once a month.

It is widely recognised that happiness in the workplace is not solely dependant on status or salary; increasingly, people want to feel challenged by new experiences, gain a sense of achievement through what they do and feel they are making a difference to the world around them. These ambitions can all be achieved through finding the right volunteering scheme to match the skills of construction professionals, whether they are just a few years into their careers and want to broaden their skills base in their current job or they are mid-career and looking to progress upwards or sideways. The point is that supporting charities in this way not only helps good causes, it can be hugely rewarding on a personal as well as professional level.

Employers don’t just look for professional expertise; a lot is attitude, communication, commitment - volunteering can tick all these boxes

Richard Gelder, Hays

Richard Gelder, director at Hays Construction and Property, says although it isn’t standard for employers to ask for candidates with volunteering experience, having it can enhance a CV and differentiate someone in a competitive interviewing process. “Volunteering shows an appetite to take on extracurricular activities that bring something to the wider community and can demonstrate the use of professional skills in a different context,” he says. “Employers don’t just look for professional expertise; a lot is attitude, communication, commitment - volunteering can tick all these boxes.”

There is a wide range of opportunities for those looking to volunteer; for really keen individuals there is the option of approaching organisations that co-ordinate overseas building projects requiring a long-term commitment, or there could be small charities closer to home that may require sacrificing less personal time.

But many forward-thinking companies also provide options that allow employees to use their time at work to volunteer. Building’s Good Employer Guide 2016 had many examples from the likes of Mace, Max Fordham, Ramboll and Skanska that support particular charities and organise “volunteer days” for staff as an important part of their corporate social responsibility policies.

There are also industry charities such as LandAid that have a pro bono programme matching construction skills that companies have to offer to charities in the UK that support disadvantaged young people, families and communities.

But before you rush in to volunteer it is wise to do some research. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations advises people to think carefully about the type of organisation they work with - is it one they believe in and will feel motivated by? It’s also important to be realistic about the amount of time commitment required. Equally you will want reassurance from the charity that it is a well-run programme with a clearly defined role.

Above all, it’s important that your skills are matched to the needs of the charity so that you both find the experience worthwhile. If all these things are in place, there’s every reason for you to join the ranks of volunteers in Britain already using their skills to help others.

Case studies

Lisa Cumming, architect at Wilkinson Eyre, aged 30

Lisa Cumming

Which volunteering scheme did you take part in?

As part of LandAid’s Pro Bono Programme, I worked with a team for the YMCA Isle of Wight to renovate a property that had operated primarily as a youth hostel. The key aim of the project was to provide self-contained residential units for people in emergency accommodation and to better spatially organise its existing services. Over a working period of five days, we provided sketch plans and an area schedule for a more legible zoning system.

Why did you decide to take part in this volunteering scheme?

I raised my hand to be a volunteer on our pro bono team. It was an opportunity to offer my architectural expertise and engage directly with the beneficiary in a way not often possible with other forms of charitable work.

What’s been the most valuable experience you have gained?

Meeting with the end users and helping them work through the challenges and potential of their property was a great experience. The sketch scheme that we developed for them will help them move forward confidently and meet a major community need.

How has it affected your career or the way you work in your day job since?

I was nervous of the time commitment in juggling the pro bono work with my project work but LandAid do a fantastic job of creating very specific briefs. The advice that we and other property professionals give can save the charities significant amounts of money that can be used to help those that need it most.

Have you any tips for someone considering volunteering their construction skills?

I’d say go for it, it is incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. Our shared expertise can have a significant impact in the fight to help end youth homelessness.


Jeremy Foster, project director, and head of charity and CSR Network at Ramboll, aged 49

Jeremy Foster

Which volunteering scheme did you take part in?

I worked in Nepal following the earthquake disaster of 25 April 2015, and the subsequent shocks in May of the same year. I led a team of four engineers from the UK and Nepal on a pro bono project to assess 10 hospitals that were rendered out of action. We performed rapid appraisals to determine what was needed to bring the hospitals back on line. This was then costed and fed back to the Department for International Development, allowing for international aid money to be released to the Nepalese government.

Why did you decide to take part in this volunteering scheme?

As engineers the best way to give back to society is the gifting of our skills. When a disaster occurs, being able to provide immediate help and hands-on support is very satisfying. The small pieces of advice can often make the most difference and are extremely valuable to organisations. This inspires us to do more and has driven me to get involved not only with large international relief schemes, but also smaller projects closer to home.

Through the various disaster relief operations I have worked on, I’ve enjoyed building personal relationships and seeing first hand the immediate impact of what the skills I’ve developed in my years of work can achieve in a disaster situation.

What’s been the most valuable experience you have gained?

Working with those affected by disasters or facing difficult circumstances is very humbling. These types of projects ignite a real sense of humanity that is very valuable to me. It is inspiring to see humans working together, across borders and industries.

From a technical perspective I’ve gained a lot of knowledge in seismic engineering and forensics. There is no doubt that disaster relief work develops skills such as adaptability and agility of thought - you have to act quickly and get to the heart of the problem fast.

How has it affected your career or the way you work in your day job since?

Working together without the usual commercial realities of day to day business, you have the chance to realise common interests and address a humanitarian need.
In relief projects the team works to ensure safety by providing solutions at an incredibly fast pace; the impacts are real and immediate. This experience translates to the day to day and I believe volunteering can ultimately bring a sharpness of mind to tackle critical issues first.”

Have you any tips for someone considering volunteering their construction skills?

“The simplest way to get involved is to find a firm, like Ramboll, that has an active CSR network. We pull together a community of engineers that respond to disasters across the globe, and aim to provide support quickly where we can. If there isn’t a network that exists in the company you work in, create one.

I would also recommend reaching out to various charity projects and asking if they are looking for volunteers with specific technical capabilities. There are many small-scale local projects in the UK that engineers can get involved in - for example, we provide support to the Noah’s Ark Children’s hospice and Kids Can Achieve. Over the years we’ve also assessed the capacity of tower block roofs to allow the installation ofPV panels and provided advice to a homeless shelter on managing their maintenance. You just need to approach the project managers and ask.


Keith Noble, building surveyor, John Rowan and Partners, aged 29

Keith Noble

Which volunteering scheme did you take part in?


The Construction Youth Trust approached John Rowan to take part in its Foundations for the Future programme, which facilitates a direct partnership between a team of industry volunteers and a partner secondary school. Workshops are delivered by the volunteers in the partner school over the academic year, to Year 9 pupils. The workshops cover construction professions, trades, women in construction and site visits. Our partner school is the Alec Reed Academy in Northolt, north-west London.

Why did you decide to take part in this volunteering scheme?

From an early age I have received help, support and guidance and this has shaped me and my career, so it was important to me that I carried this on and did the same for others.

What’s been the most valuable experience you have gained?

How positive and enthusiastic young people can be - it’s such a great influence and motivates me to push on further in my career.

How has it affected your career or the way you work in your day job since?

I am a lot more conscious of people I encounter that don’t have construction knowledge and make the effort to put things into non-technical, easy to understand terms. I don’t use acronyms or assume just because I or other construction professionals understand something that others automatically will - this approach has really helped with clients and residents of clients.

Have you any tips for someone considering volunteering their construction skills and knowledge?

Jump in. Don’t think you don’t have anything to offer: you do, and it will be appreciated. You can make a real difference and play your part in improving the industry. Not only that but you gain so much from it - it has improved my career, skillset, knowledge and understanding, my only regret is I didn’t do it earlier.