… with people like these in the industry. We profile the five early starters who’ve made the shortlist for Building’s first-ever young achievers award, sponsored by the Construction Industry Training Board.
The Building Awards are approaching again, and this year we’ve created a category to recognise the contribution of young people in construction, sponsored by the Construction Industry Training Board.

As the industry shakes off its traditional old boys’ club image, employees under the age of 25 are showing many of the old school how the 21st-century industry could work. We wanted to discover talented individuals who have done something special, whether they come from a craft, technical or graduate background. The judges tried to focus on that elusive X-factor – spark and inspiration – as well as commitment, determination and hard work.

Building has introduced this award – and is profiling the five shortlisted candidates – in the hope that it will inspire the next generation of construction professionals. As reported last week (24 January, page 11), there has been a 45% decline in construction course applications between 1994 and 2000 – and the number of female applicants is just 8%.

Sir John Fairclough, a leading industrialist and government adviser, predicts that if the trend continues there will be no civil engineering applicants by 2009, and the last building and construction student will enter university in 2012.

However, with wages soaring for some construction occupations – skilled workers on Terminal 5 are earning £55,000 – and industry consultants contributing more to the UK economy than music, film and media professionals combined, a revamp of the image of a career in construction is long overdue.

Building editor Adrian Barrick, who led the judging panel, said: “The timing of this award couldn’t be more opportune. Construction has struggled for years to attract talented young people – both at craft and managerial level – and one of the main problems has been a shortage of suitable role models.

Young Entrepreneurs in Property is a fantastically lively and enthusiastic group; the property industry has a great future

Liz Peace, chief executive, British Property Federation

Alpha has shown commitment and patience in becoming a skilled craftsman. At only 18 and without any family he has shown himself to be a strong and resilient young man

Angela Vidal, teacher, Laing Training

Fiona is absolutely first-class. She has a very cerebral approach, with lots of self-motivation. If she comes across a problem, she always finds a way around it

Denis O’Brien, managing quantity surveyor, Costain

John is extremely hard-working. He’s got a can-do attitude and people have a lot of confidence in him. Without doubt he’ll be a manager in the future

Trina Sollis, training programme manager, Mace

Natalie has brought an unprecedented level of energy both to the role and the business

Paul Bennett, sales and marketing director, Laing Homes

The jet-setting networker

Name Georgia Elliott-Smith
Age 25
Job Environmental engineer and founder of a business forum
Employer Franklin + Andrews

Energy isn’t an issue for Georgia. The 25-year-old has trekked to the Antarctic, been a junior envoy for UN organisation UNESCO, and founded a networking forum for young people in the building industry. “I never really got to meet young people in the industry,” she explains. “I felt it would be great to set up some kind of forum for young ambitious people to get together and share ideas, to really talk about where they’re going and ask each other questions that they might not feel able to ask other people.” So she founded Young Entrepreneurs in Property (www.yepforum.org) in February 2002. The group holds events every two months for up to 120 attendees, and has hosted speeches from heavyweights including Sir Stuart Lipton, chairman of CABE, Mark Dixon, chief executive of Regus, and architect David Marks. After studying environmental engineering at Portsmouth, Georgia joined Bovis Lend Lease, which had sponsored her Antarctic expedition while she was at university. She moved to QS Franklin + Andrews two years ago to build up clients for their property services, and help develop its environmental policies and services. In the future Georgia would like to expand her role to include environmental consulting: “I see the issues coming up more and more in the media now,” she says. “Through talking to people at YEP I can see the opportunities out there, and I’d like to start my own business at some point.”

The against-all-odds survivor

Name Alpha Jalloh
Age 18
Job Dryliner
Employer Studied for an NVQ with Laing Training and is now looking for a job

Alpha’s life story sounds like a movie script. Originally from Sierra Leone, the 18-year-old recalls how he was forced into slavery by rebel soldiers when he was 14. He says he escaped three years later only to be locked up and beaten by the police. “They didn’t treat me like a human,” he says. After escaping to England, he arrived in London in November 2001 with no money and speaking little English. Fortunately a stranger directed him to the Home Office, where he applied for asylum. “I have been given exceptional leave to remain in this country,” he explains. “That lasts for a few years and then they review it, depending on the situation in Sierra Leone. [But] there is no hope in Sierra Leone. I do not know whether my family are alive or dead.”

After learning English, Alpha chose to study for an NVQ in drylining with Laing Training. He qualified in December and is now looking for a job. “Drylining is interesting,” he said. “My course finished in December and now I’m trying to get a job in drylining. I’d like to work – I want to work.”

Being nominated for Building’s Young Achievers award was a real surprise for him: “I feel great about the award nomination because I wasn’t expecting anything. I feel proud.”

The accidental achiever

Name Fiona Milnes
Age 25
Job Quantity surveyor
Employer Costain

A job in construction was never on Fiona Milnes’ agenda. She originally planned to study business, but a marking error on one of her A level papers meant she didn’t get onto the course she wanted at Loughborough University. Instead Fiona was offered a place studying commercial management and quantity surveying. “I started my degree not even knowing what it was,” she admits. “I kind of fell into the industry.”

She joined Costain’s graduate trainee programme after finishing university, but soon faced a crisis of confidence. “I’d done so well in my degree that I got carried away, and when I started on site I came down to earth,” she says. “I didn’t think I could do it. I was so depressed about it that I was thinking of leaving. But I talked to someone in my office who convinced me to stay. I’m back with a vengeance now.”

With Costain, Fiona has been visiting schools to encourage kids to think about a career in construction. She gets a great response, especially from the girls: “They haven’t been interested in construction before, but then they see that it’s not just for the boys. Women are more suited to some aspects of construction than men – they’re better at communicating and everyone seems to get on better when there are women on site.”

In the future Fiona hopes to stay at Costain and would like to try other areas of the industry. She’s got her sights set on becoming a project manager.

The determined self-motivator

Name John O’Kane
Age 24
Job Assistant construction manager
Employer Mace

John grew up in the construction industry - his father is an electrician and John often helped him on site. “It was first nature to me to be interested in construction,” he says. “I started working on sites as soon as I was old enough, when I was 16. I’ve worked on some of the biggest projects in Northern Ireland.”

He went on to study Construction Management and Technology at Manchester University, and joined Mace as a graduate trainee. But his promising future was put in doubt in 2001 when his back was seriously injured during a game of Gaelic football. He has since had several operations and is in training to run the New York marathon. “I had to give myself a goal to train for to help get better,” he explains. “So I decided I was going to run a marathon, and I chose the New York marathon 2003. It’s been a hard challenge. It’s taken two years to get to the stage where I can actually run, and now I’m training hard. I’ll be running up to 50 miles a week. It’s given me a goal.”

John is the assistant construction manager on the creation of a baggage hall at Heathrow Terminal 1. And he definitely sees his future within Mace: “I want to go as far as I can,” he says. “There’s a very positive culture. I want to finish the training programme – I hope to be at the top of the tree at Mace in the next 10 years. If you don’t have the ambition, you’ll never achieve it. Everything’s on track for me.”

The creative visionary

Name Natalie Silver
Age 25
Job Assistant marketing manager
Employee Laing Homes

Former Harrods window dresser Natalie marketed her first housing development so well that she ended up buying one of the flats herself. She studied visual merchandising at college and then went on to work for Harrods. “But it wasn’t overly challenging,” she says. “I started temping in Laing’s offices and really liked it. So I moved into marketing about three years ago. I had to work my way up.”

Her first full project was a development in Watford. She chose the name “Fabrik” to promote it, and each type of flat was assigned a different texture of fabric – denim, leather, velvet, cashmere – which was used in the fixtures and fittings. Natalie’s work paid off – the development sold out, but not before she’d put down a deposit for a pad of her own. “Because I was the target audience, I could have it exactly as I wanted it,” she explains. “It’s brilliant – it makes the place a lot more yours. And it has helped me with my work on other projects; you look at the plans more for things like storage space.”

The job is very different from Harrods, but Natalie is content. “I love the flexibility,” she says. “No two days are the same. I can be really creative, which is important to me. It’s great when you see people walking into your showroom and you get positive feedback.”

Natalie wants to stay in marketing: “I’d like to have my own team, and really get every development right. It’s really challenging. There’s always so much going on.”

And the other awards contenders are …

Architectural Practice of the Year
Feilden Clegg Architects
Foster and Partners
Kohn Pedersen Fox (International) PA
Pascall & Watson Architects

Construction Consultant of the Year
sponsored by Hays Montrose
Buro Happold
Cyril Sweett
Mott MacDonald
Turner & Townsend
WSP Group

Contractor of the Year (less than £200m turnover)
sponsored by Kingspan
Citex Prime Solutions
Crown House Engineering
Dean & Dyball Construction
Fitzpatrick Contractors
Simons Construction
Thomas Vale Construction

Entrepreneur of the Year
sponsored by Taylor Woodrow
Steve Hindley, the Midas Group
Paul Thwites, Ashwell Property Group
Urban Splash

Housebuilder of the Year (500-2000 homes a year)
sponsored by Wavin Plastics
Berkeley Homes
Linden Holdings
McCarthy & Stone (Developments)
St George
International AchievementBenoy
Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners
Mott MacDonald
WSP International

Major Contractor of the Year (£200m+ turnover)
sponsored by Marshalls
Carillion Building
Interserve Project Services
Sir Robert McAlpine
Taylor Woodrow
Wates Group

Major Housebuilder of the Year (2000+ homes a year)
sponsored by Lafarge
Barratt Developments
David Wilson Homes
Miller Homes

Project/Construction Manager of the Year
Arup Project Management
Bovis Lend Lease
Hornagold & Hills
Turner & Townsend

Surveyor of the Year
sponsored by Hays Montrose
Davis Langdon & Everest
Franklin + Andrews

Regional Housebuilder of the Year (less than 500 homes a year)
sponsored by British Gypsum
Banner Homes
Emlor Homes
Pegasus Retirement Homes
Stamford Homes
Urban Splash

Specialist Contractor of the Year
sponsored by Jewson
Billington Structures
Bourne Steel
Cementation Foundations Skanska
Hills Electrical & Mechanical
Rock & Alluvium
Wilson James

Sustainability Award
sponsored by St George
Arup Associates
Carillion Building
Countryside Properties
Feilden Clegg Architects
Taylor Woodrow

Shortlists for manufacturer, client, personality and best practice will follow shortly.