How do you get young people to join construction? Once they’re in, how do you keep them? Well, we could ask these guys. These 10 professionals from every corner of the industry are Building’s new Graduate Advisory Panel, and they’ll be sharing their views on recruitment, skills and more in weekly columns. Building got them together to find out why they chose the sector and where they’re going.
Vicky Burley is blunt about what she wants to achieve. “I want to be an associate by the time I’m 30, a partner by between 35 and 40, and to get as much experience as possible.”
Burley has just spent a “fantastic” year on the graduate scheme at construction consultant EC Harris. She got there after taking a quantity surveying degree at Kingston University, which she read about in the university prospectus. “I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do,” she says. “At one stage I wanted to be a pilot. But I looked at what the QS degree offered and it had law, management and business studies – a good mix.”
She is currently working on hotels for her firm, a job that involves an agreeable amount of travel. “We go where our clients need us,” she says, adding that she is already talking to her bosses to try to get as much travel as possible – her ambition is to work in China.
Burley is convinced of the need to make the profession more accessible to younger people, especially to attract women. “In terms of getting more women in the industry, I’m not advocating holding seminars in underwear shops but in generally promoting the profession to younger people, the 15 and 16 year olds. Careers advice at school is appalling. There is a complete lack of awareness about what being a QS is. Everyone I know seems to have stumbled on it, unless their dad did it.”
Kevin Bundy, 29, senior project manager, Davis Langdon
Unusually for the sector, Bundy didn’t come from a construction background. “None of my family are involved in the industry at all,” he says. “But at school I was drawn towards CDT-type subjects, and a careers adviser suggested that architecture might be the way to go.” He looked into it, “but I soon found I liked the admin more than being arty”. Instead he took a degree in project management and construction in Brighton.
He started out doing refurb work for a small company in Guildford, before joining Davis Langdon as an assistant project manager. He was promoted to senior project manager in July. His current job is working on the redevelopment of the London stock exchange. This means he has reams of contracts and legal issues to wade through, but what he really enjoys is dealing with people. “I’m much more interested in the motivational parts of the job,” he says.
Bundy’s main concern in the industry at the moment is the state of training and recruitment. Many QS firms have difficulties maintaining a steady stream of graduates, a situation he thinks is caused by the lack of awareness of the industry at school level. “To deal with the skills shortage, we have to be working with the secondary schools. Career advisers there try to push you one way or another, but they never mention construction.”
Nia Griffith, 25, senior planner, Hepher Dixon
“Everyone thinks town planners work for the council and wear cardigans and sandals,” says Nia Griffith. “But I work for the private sector and thoroughly enjoy what I do.”
Griffith graduated from Newcastle University in 2003 with a degree in town planning, and she is making good progress. She has already been promoted to senior planner at consultant Hepher Dixon, although she only stumbled into the job when a careers adviser suggested she study town planning at university.
She enjoys being the mediator, she says, to-ing and fro-ing between clients, architects and the council, but hates it when politics get in the way of a sensible decision. “It’s frustrating when you work so hard for so long only to fall at the final hurdle. Sometimes it seems decisions are made more on a political basis than an actual understanding of the project.”
Like many of our graduates, Griffith believes the skills shortage is the industry’s biggest problem. She lays the current shortage of planners at the feet of the Royal Town Planning Institute, which is “stuck in the wrong era”. She thinks sustainability is crucial to the future of the industry and advocates tax incentives to encourage environment-friendly practice, as well as more funding for BRE.
If Griffith were construction minister, she’d put pressure on brownfield landowners to develop or sell up. She’d also tell councils to bulldoze empty buildings and grass over the area until they decided what to do with the land.
Griffith wants to stay in the private sector and her ambition is to work on a monumental scheme – something like the Gherkin. “It would be great to be involved with something like that and really feel I had left my mark on a big city.”
Katherine Bailey, 24, assistant project manager, Emcor
Katherine Bailey has a simple answer to why young people aren’t joining the industry – there’s not enough construction on television. As chair of g4, the junior arm of industry group Constructing Excellence, she is determined to attract more young people and women. “Everyone can have a fairly informed view about being a doctor or a nurse, as there are so many TV dramas. There’s very little cultural exposure to construction, so how will the public know about the industry?”
It is fair to say a fluke of geography played a part in Bailey’s decision to enter construction. She had not considered the sector while at university in Edinburgh, where she studied mechanical engineering with management. The course usually leads to careers in vehicle manufacture, which posed a slight problem when she moved back to the Wiltshire Countryside: “Not an area known for its car factories.”
It was at this stage that Bailey showed the resourcefulness that has characterised her rapid rise to assistant project manager. Faced with no obvious route to a job, she looked up all the architects within driving distance, and wrote 80 letters asking if anyone wanted a project manager. One did.
Now at Emcor, Bailey is set to keep rising in the field of project management, which she enjoys for the trust placed in her to control the destiny of a scheme. She is also passionate about her work for G4. “It’s a huge task to change the image of the industry, but there is no reason young women shouldn’t be in the industry. If I could be a role model for even one woman, that would be a good thing.”
Andrew Link, 27, area manager, Bovis Lend Lease
Andrew Link did not originally consider a career in a construction. Ditching a “not very challenging” design course, he took a year out and decided to enroll in a construction management degree at Nottingham Trent University. He was surprised by the similar backgrounds of his colleagues. “There were a lot of people on the course who do the job because it’s recommended by their family,” he says.
Three weeks in, Bovis turned up at one of his lectures and offered one student the chance to be sponsored through the course, with a year out working abroad. This turned out to be something of a no-brainer. “I thought, do I want to be in Spain or in the rain in Nottingham?” he recalls.
Link has spent the past two years working for Bovis at the huge Chapelfields development in Norwich. He liked the work. “No two days are ever the same and I’m quite thankful for that. On the other hand, it can be a problem when the first thing you have to deal with that day is a bit of a showstopper …”
After his work at Chapelfields is finished, he is keen to play a role in delivering the London Olympics. “The Olympics is a really good opportunity for people my age,” he says. “The guys with a lot of experience may not be involved by 2012.”
Having already worked in Madrid for Bovis, Link thinks there are areas UK Building plc can improve. “We’re very good and generally more safety conscious,” he says, “but we have more of a subcontracting mentality, so responsibility for areas such as safety can disappear. In Spain a general builder does all the jobs. Here the subbies get a lump sum and nobody cares how they get the job done.”
Chris Tickel, 25, section engineer, Balfour Beatty
Chris Tickel disappointed his dad by going to university. After completing his GNVQ in construction and the built environment at Southend College, he went to help run his father’s drylining business with a view to eventually taking it over. But Tickel soon realised he wasn’t cut out for it and took up a place at Portsmouth University to study civil engineering. During his compulsory third-year industry placement he worked for Balfour Beatty and, after graduating in 2002, he now works full-time for the company as a site engineer.
Tickel says it’s the high pay and job security that keeps him in the construction industry. “The industry pays graduates very well,” he says. “There’s also loads of work about. If anything there’s too much, what with winning the Olympics.”
He says the best thing about his job is the variety – both of people and places. “I’ve worked on jobs with crazy 60-year-old Irishmen on the electrics and gangs of Polish guys doing the labouring. We even had a load of Indian chippies who used to bring in homemade onion bhajis and give them out to everyone on site.”
Moving sites every couple of years means you never get bored, he says, but sometimes the travelling means you start the day already shattered. On one site in Kingston, Surrey, he had to do a five-hour round trip from Southend every day.
Tickel thinks the major problem facing the industry is the skills shortage and puts this down to the industry’s – and especially the Institution of Civil Engineers’ – stuffy reputation. “They need to talk to the next generation more,” he says. “As the older, more experienced workers retire, there won’t be enough people with sufficient experience coming through and then the industry will be in trouble.”
Rachel Turner, 37, trainee solicitor, Hammonds
For Rachel Turner, construction law was the ideal solution to a perpetual dilemma: how to satisfy her interest in engineering without tying herself to a traditional career in the profession. After working as a civil engineer at Maunsell for four years, Turner decided her practical experience could be invaluable in the legal field and returned to university in 2001 to study law. “Having the engineering background to my job is the best thing about it,” says Turner. “It enables me to contribute the maximum amount to provide the best legal advice to my clients.”
Turner is keen that lawyers should be involved early on. “There is a right time for legal advice on projects, and sometimes clients go past that point before they ask for help,” she says. “We can offer useful advice before clients get into huge amounts of trouble. It’s frustrating when you are brought in late and you know you could have improved a situation.”
As part of this early involvement, Turner believes lawyers can help companies improve the public image of their projects. “The public perception of building hasn’t changed in recent times,” she says. “Opinion is guided by financial results of a project, and because of that great construction work can be written off unfairly.”
Carolina Lameiras, 25, design engineer, Adams Kara Taylor
Carolina Lameiras’ interest in the construction industry was kindled by the landscape of her childhood, the high rise blocks of Makau, an island near Hong Kong. “The skyline is very striking. I like the idea that by working as a design engineer, I may be able to change the landscape of a city.”
Lameiras moved to the UK 12 years ago to study, a path that led her to a civil engineering degree at Kingston University. She joined Adams Kara Taylor after graduating last year, and is relishing her work. “Being in charge of projects is fantastic. It’s a dynamic job, and I’m proving to my colleagues that I can cope.”
Despite her love of the industry, Lameiras sees two deep-rooted problems in the sector. The first is the well-documented skills shortage, which Lameiras attributes largely to the stereotypical view that many still have of construction. The second issue is what she considers the reckless depletion of resources. “People don’t really seem to understand that we’re using resources up rapidly,” she says. “Prices are set to rise sky high, and there are huge environmental issues as well. If more top architects promote sustainable methods, these can be integrated into design.”
Dan Kola, 26, project manager, Mace
Dan Kola was alerted to the possibility of a career in the industry by his father’s QS mates in Blackburn. “They all had better cars than my dad, who’s a teacher,” he says. Yet despite a Birmingham University engineering degree, his first thought was to become a management consultant. “I became less and less interested in engineering and more and more interested in management,” he recalls.
Kola is typical of the younger breed of construction professionals for whom Egan and Latham are second nature. He was all set for a career with Accenture when one of his lecturers told him about construction manager Mace. A placement there made him see he could combine management and construction.
Kola flags up a key problem with the industry for younger workers. “The image the industry portrays is not very good,” he says. “When I met up with my friends when we all graduated, I’d say what I did and they’d say, ‘What’re you doing that for?’ We need to show the range of what you can do – it’s not just being on site.”
Tarek Merlin, 29, architect, Alsop Architects
Being a member of the design team for one of the most successful buildings this year while still in your 20s could be daunting for some. But not Tarek Merlin, who loved designing the outlandish pods for Alsop’s Queen Mary research centre in east London while on work experience with the architect back in 2001.
“The best thing about my job is producing solid structures that start off as ideas,” he says. “I’m lucky because I can see my ideas in a physical form.”
Following architectural studies at Manchester University and the Bartlett School, Tarek got his part III in 2002 and now has a permanent position at Alsop. After a short stint at Foster and Partners, he discovered big firms stunted his creativity.
“I like to design using natural materials, light and texture, which, in this country, tend not to be designed by the bigger, more corporate companies. Buildings like Swiss Re and City Hall are over the top. They try too hard to gain iconic status.”
Merlin would also like to sort out Britain’s chronic housing shortage but says the £60,000 house isn’t the way forward. “We’d have to build so many of them in a sprawling mass all over the country just to get the numbers right.” The answer, he insists, is high-rise schemes. “Sounds scary, but it isn’t – it’s the only solution.”