Don't fancy being stuck in rainy old Britain but can't afford to travel? Jealous of your mates going to exciting places while you're facing a life of hard work? Never fear – a career in construction is your ticket outta here … and this lot can prove it, says George Hay
OK, so you've left school or university and you're facing a dilemma. Do you: (a) forget about work for a couple of years and head off on your travels to extend the lazy joys of student days – but with hardly a penny to your name? Or do you (b) settle down to the joyless grind of a nine-to-five existence, earning cash to go out and pay off your debts, but wasting your chance to see the world?

It's a tricky one – but if you go into construction, you can do both. The potential for construction workers getting out of the UK and broadening their horizons is absolutely massive. yet hardly anybody has sussed this out – the most recent CITB survey on why workers choose construction found that only 23% do so because of the chance of travel.

Sitelife caught up with three intrepid globetrotters who were savvy to the opportunities, and prove the advantages can be amazing. Like Gary Wells, you might find yourself fast-tracked into leading a multinational company's operations in Iraq. Or, like Laura Jeffrey, you could live and work in one of the world's most exciting cities, helping to create out-of-this-world buildings. And all the time, you're seeing places you never thought you would and probably enjoying much better weather than you would back in Blighty. How can you lose?

Leading the charge

Gary Wells, Project manager, Costain International, Iraq When Gary Wells left Heriot-Watt University as a wet-behind-the-ears civil engineering graduate 12 years ago, little did he know that he would one day be a leading figure in the reconstruction of Iraq. Nor did he realise that his job with construction giant Costain would have taken him to such diverse locales as the Bahamas, Bahrain in the Middle East and Hong Kong. At 34, Wells is the oldest of our four Brits abroad – he’s been there, done it and got the T-shirt. But his enthusiasm for the job remains undiminished. The Kent-born project manager gushed to Sitelife: “I love the versatility and the daily challenge.” Before working overseas, Wells worked for six years in the UK building up his expertise in marine work. This gave him the necessary experience to work on similar projects in sunnier climes. For a year-and-a-half he worked in Bahrain, principally upgrading the Asry Dry Dock, a major shipyard in the Persian Gulf. Then, it was onto the Caribbean to soak up the sun as a marine works manager in a port in the Bahamas. Wells’ overseas work has landed him one of the most enviable jobs in construction today: leading the Costain team bidding for work in Iraq. The US construction giants, such as Bechtel and Halliburton, are handing out contracts to leading British companies to rebuild a country torn apart by war and an oppressive regime. It’s exciting stuff – and is sure to offer Wells that daily challenge he craves. Snapshot
What made you go into construction?

I wanted to go into a technical-based profession, and construction attracted me because of the diversity of its work.
How did you get the opportunity to work abroad?
I qualified as a chartered engineer, and then expressed an interest in the opportunities that Costain offered to work overseas. My expertise in marine structure helped in getting work abroad.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the versatility of what I do and its daily challenge. It’s great to have the ability to make a visible difference.
You’ve worked in several countries. Which was your favourite?
That’s got to be Bahrain. You could achieve a good balance between work and real life.
What was Bahrain like out of site hours?
It was great for sports and very hot in the summer months. I used to play squash, golf and I regularly went swimming. I also joined the gym.
What did you miss about the UK?
I have to admit I missed my family and friends, but it was easy to meet people overseas.

Blackburn rover

Laura Jeffery, Project manager, Bovis Lend Lease, New York You can take the girl out of Lancashire but you can’t take Lancashire out of the girl: Laura Jeffery does miss her footie, her pies and her “proper” beer. But she can’t get enough of her new life in New York. Laura, 26, is a Blackburn lass but loves the chance to meet new people in the culturally diverse Big Apple. She got there by contacting the CITB as a teenager, attending events and going on work-shadowing schemes, which convinced her that construction was for her. Then she went on to a BSc in construction management at UMIST in Manchester, during which time she managed to get sponsorship from Bovis for four years, including a year out working in Hamburg, Germany. Still with the company, she is working as a project manager on the AOL Time Warner Center in Manhattan, managing four contractors, dealing with design changes and contractor costs – and would not swap it for the world. As she says herself: “Working abroad gives you a real insight of how to approach your job differently.” Snapshot
What made you go into construction?

At about the age of 14 I decided a career in construction was right for me because it involved working outdoors in a very diverse environment. I wanted a career that presented challenges and would not make me lose interest.
How did you get the opportunity to work abroad?
Bovis Lend Lease offers a graduate exchange programme to the United States where a graduate from the UK goes to work in the USA and vice versa. After completion of my role on the Chiswick Park project just outside London, I went for a place on the scheme and was lucky enough to be accepted on the AOL Time Warner project in New York.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It never bores me! I run around all day trying to solve a variety of problems. The time flies by and the challenges thrown at me certainly keep me on my toes.
What do you like most about the country you’re in?
Although I have travelled within America I can only really comment on New York. Everyone lives here at a very fast pace and we have the luxury of a 24-hour city. I love the fact that the city is so big yet so easy to travel around.
What is New York like out of hours?
The nightlife in New York is fantastic! There is so much to do here that I don’t think you even need to visit the same restaurant, bar or club twice. Sport events here are brilliant and I really like going to watch baseball games.
What did you miss about the UK?
All the good stuff like football, proper beer, chips and gravy and Hollands pies! Seriously, I miss family and friends the most but I’m lucky enough to be able to see them relatively often. And it doesn’t rain as much here as in Blackburn!

Czech mate

Karen Politi, Commercial manager, Bovis Lend Lease, Prague Globetrotting Mancunian Karen Politi already combined construction and travel before taking up her current job as a commercial manager for contractor Bovis in the Czech Republic. Before university she worked in Australia for a land surveyor in order to finance her travels Down Under. On her return, Karen took on temping work at the Bovis office in Manchester, where she discovered that they took on trainees. A position was available in the commercial department, and having negotiated the interview, Karen found herself as a full-time employee being sent on a part-time construction management degree course at Salford University. After college, she stayed with Bovis and worked on its Manchester City Art Gallery refurbishment as a commercial manager, looking after the day-to-day finances of the project, giving out contracts and doing internal monthly financial reports. Last year Karen, now 29, went for the company’s one-year exchange programme to work on the Centrum Olympia project, a £25m shopping centre under construction in Plzen, west of Prague. She describes living in the Czech Republic’s capital city and working abroad as “a real learning experience that has been truly positive”. Snapshot
What made you go into construction?

Construction is often seen as a bloke’s industry so it was a challenge I wanted to pursue. Now I’m really glad I did. At school I attended a week’s work experience at an architect. When I told the managers how much I’d enjoyed it, they offered me a full-time position of assistant technical tracer after school. I gradually became exposed to the different elements of construction and wanted to experience as many as possible.
How did you get the opportunity to work abroad?
I’ve always wanted to live and work abroad – I spent a year in Australia and when I came back to work with Bovis Lend Lease in the UK I was thrilled to see they supported the idea of global learning. So when an email was sent around within Bovis Lend Lease offering the opportunity to be part of an exchange programme in the Czech Republic, I replied, was invited for an interview and was successful. Within three months I had relocated to Prague. The rest is history!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Lots of things. I love meeting people with different areas of expertise who I can learn from. Because you work on different projects and usually with different teams, no two projects are ever the same. Each one has different problems to solve so it never gets boring. It is a great feeling when you’ve started a project and see it through to completion, especially when it is a high-profile building.
What do you like most about the Czech Republic?
I love its culture and architectural heritage, and I also like being in the centre of Europe – you can visit lots of other countries just by driving for a couple of hours. I also like how you can go out for a meal and a few drinks with £20 and come home with change. It’s sometimes a real struggle to learn a new language, but it’s also a great challenge.
What is Prague like out of hours?
With so many pubs, clubs, restaurants it would be difficult not to enjoy the nightlife in Prague! Bovis also provides free membership to a gym, which has got all the facilities. Most of the gym staff speak English, too. I try to go at least three times a week. OK … maybe once a month!
What did you miss about the UK?
I obviously miss my family and friends, but I also really miss going out for a good Chinese!