Reckon it'd be hard to have a lucrative career in construction? Convinced you'd have to be going grey before you get recognition and reward? Think again – Alex Wiltshire met three inspiring young people who've already made it big
The sums of a part-timerAndrew Parker, 23, Project surveyor, Kier
Andrew Parker firmly believes the best way to study for a degree is to do it part-time. Now 23, he graduated this summer from his five-year BSc course in quantity surveying at the University of Westminster with a 2:1 – but he’s been working since he left school at 17. “It’s the best way – as well as the money, I got really important experience on site and the degree,” he says. Learning his subject in a hands-on way meant that he found it a lot easier to pick up. Now Andrew is out of university, he already has five years’ experience in construction behind him – putting him way ahead of his peers. And unlike many recent university leavers, he isn’t living in poverty. Last year Andrew bought a house in Watford with his girlfriend. “I spend most of my free time and money on DIY now – before the house I could spend it on an enjoyable life,” he jokes. Construction was always an interest for Andrew; he originally wanted to be a carpenter, but felt quantity surveying would offer more money and a more varied job. He joined Bovis at 17 as a trainee quantity surveyor, which crucially meant they paid for his degree, and spent one day a week at university. In May this year, just before finishing university, he left Bovis for a smaller company, Kier, so that he could have a bigger role on smaller projects as a project surveyor. “I like that my job is really diverse,” he says. “I talk to people in all sorts of trades – all the different subcontractors – and have to understand what they’re all about, which means I’ve developed a good technical and economic knowledge.” Project surveying is all about breaking down a proposed construction project into pieces, awarding work to each type of subcontractor that will be involved, such as the bricklayers, the roofers and so on, and making sure each subcontractor is of good quality and that their quotes are correct. He must then manage the accounts and accommodate changes to the design. So what’s the best project he’s worked on? “A golf course at Wentworth was really interesting,” he says. “We did a new health centre with swimming pools and all that sort of thing. And actually the one I’m working on at the moment for Tesco’s is good – it’s fast track and very varied.” Andrew is proof that you don’t have to work on the latest landmark Norman Foster building for a challenging and stimulating job in construction.
A self-made womenGeorgia Elliott-Smith, 26, Self-employed environmental consultant
Georgia Elliott-Smith is totally passionate about construction. “What I find so rewarding is that you’re involved with making this thing of bricks and mortar – you can walk down the street and say, ‘I made that!’” Georgia is an environmental consultant, a job that entails working with architects and contractors to ensure projects are as environmentally sustainable as possible and reduce the impact of sites on their surroundings. At just 26, she has done a lot already in the business. In June this year she started up a company on her own, Element 4; earlier this year she won Building magazine’s Young Achievers Award for setting up the Young Entrepreneurs in Property forum – and she’s been a junior envoy in Antarctica for world organisation UNESCO. Phew! Georgia studied environmental engineering at Portsmouth University for three years, and was sponsored by Bovis, a huge construction company. “It was a fantastic opportunity,” she says. “I worked during the holidays as an on-site project manager, I was paid a proper salary and treated as a full-time employee while learning a lot of skills that I needed.” During her second year of university, she raised £20,000 to go to Antarctica as part of a support team for expeditions and became a special junior envoy for UNESCO. She helped set up and manage an expedition camp in Antarctica, setting up the computer system and power and constantly checking on expedition teams’ progress. She even had to help build an igloo! Her incredible experiences led to her going all around the UK talking to schools about environmental issues. On returning home Georgia worked at Bovis for two-and-a-half years and then moved to a quantity surveying company, Franklin + Andrews, where she worked for another two-and-a-half years as a business development manager and founded an environmental management unit. At the end of 2001, Georgia set up the Young Entrepreneurs in Property forum, which organises events for young people in the industry to meet each other and learn more about other areas of the business. Having won an award for this achievement, Georgia felt the time was right to strike out on her own. Element 4 is run from Georgia’s second bedroom in her house in Greenwich, south London. “It’s a great routine,” she says. “I go through paperwork in the morning and then spend most of my day out at meetings with material suppliers, contractors and architects, and go on site to see the projects I’m involved with.” She returns at about six to do a couple more hours. “It sounds like a long day but at least I don’t have to do all that awful commuting!” Construction is important to Georgia, and she is concerned that people don’t know enough about it. “It’s a lot younger and more dynamic than people think – it’s a great shame,” she says. And she’s living proof of that.
Radical residence dudeAdam Diggs, 30, Builder, Unique Environments
Adam Diggs leads a double life. He spends four days a week in London working on exclusively designed residential building projects, and three days at his home in Devon, surfing, riding his motorbike and generally hanging out with his mates. Now 30, Adam has worked for a company called Unique Environments for the past six years. The firm creates highly contemporary buildings and conversions with the concept of bringing the outside inside. These are the sort of houses that have rivers running through them and trees growing in the living room. It’s Adam’s job to make these designs a reality. “It’s a good challenge – the designers give us an idea of what they want and we work it out. We’re not just building walls – at the moment we’re working on a building that we can’t build up from, so we’ve had to sink the floor down a storey – challenges like that.” On Sunday night he and the rest of the team travel up from Devon to London to stay in the three-bedroom flat in exclusive Belsize Park that Unique Environments provides for them. The set-up is as unique as the buildings they work on – but it definitely suits them! Adam left school when he was 15 and, without qualifications, laboured on building sites until he met Michael Nathenson of Unique Environments. Michael hired him to work on a job in Hawaii for the best part of a year. “The house was H-shaped, with a pool running all the way through it. I’m a big surfer so it was the perfect place,” Adam says. On returning to the UK, Adam studied carpentry and realised that construction was the perfect career for him. “Building keeps you outdoors and fit,” he says. “I can’t imagine working in an office.” The challenges in the types of buildings he works with have rewards too: he’s particularly proud of a house he helped build in Hampstead with a river running through it, which won the FX International Design Award for best residence in 2001. Back in Devon, Adam owns his house, a boat (from which he wakeboards) and a large motorcycle. Apart from the watersports, he’s been spending the summer walking and camping too. “It’s the best of both worlds,” he says. The freedom he has means he’s also thinking about buying a house to do up in Devon – and perhaps a flat in London as well. Adam’s working life perfectly complements his interests and needs and he has no hesitation in recommending it to others: “If you’re an outdoors person and enjoy working hard, there’s absolutely nothing better to do.”