The glittering rewards of project management have lured many a construction professional and, as it becomes increasingly difficult to switch into new disciplines, now may be the time to take the leap. James Clegg finds out how some people did it …and why one man never will

Project management. It’s got it all – money, power and job satisfaction. No wonder so many people drop out of other disciplines and go into project management instead. Commonly they are quantity surveyors a few years into their jobs, who are enticed by the bigger salary, the fact they would be higher up the construction food chain and, some would argue, the greater variety offered by the role.

Gareth Broadrick, senior manager at recruitment agents Hays, thinks employers are becoming less enthusiastic about people shifting roles in the industry. He says: “I think it’s harder to move these days because people are a bit scared of the costs. Everyone’s a bit nervous with the credit crunch.” However, he adds that project management is still relatively easy to switch to as it is fairly generic. So, if you do fancy a change of career, now might be the time to consider getting into project management. We asked five people how they did it.

Thomas Southall, 24

Southall joined EC Harris as a non-cognate graduate trainee quantity surveyor after studying geography at the University of Manchester. After a year, he switched paths and is now continuing the scheme as a project manager.

“When I started working as a QS I wasn’t fully aware of what the job involved. After six months I was given the opportunity to work as a project manager and see what that role entailed – I thought it fitted me more.

“With quantity surveying about 90% of my time was spent doing cost plans and measurements. In contrast, I find project management more diverse and hands-on.

“I joined EC Harris in September 2006 and started doing an MSc in construction as a distance-learning conversion course. This included general construction modules, with a specialisation in a particular discipline – in my case, quantity surveying. Last June I swapped to construction project management and changed within EC Harris to doing project management.

“I had to do some extra coursework for the MSc to make up some credits from the first year, but I have no doubt it was worth the extra effort. In terms of future career prospects, it’s a very good thing to do.”

Lucy Rutland, 28

Rutland worked as a civil engineer before spending eighteen months making documentaries on construction for the Einstein Network, a publisher of professional development training material. She now works as a project manager for Capita Symonds.

“As a TV producer, part of my role was to ask people about their jobs. I kept meeting project managers and I felt they were doing exactly what I wanted to do. I loved working in television, but I couldn’t see my next step in it. I wanted to get back into construction and really progress.

“Capita Symonds put me through the Association for Project Management practitioners course, which I did for a day and a half a month. That covered everything from setting up projects to completion, risk registers, change orders and negotiation.”

Gareth Griffiths, 35

A career in structural engineering led Griffiths to doing CAD modelling, but he then switched to project management two years ago.

“I wanted to get more involved in actual projects. Where I started was very much about innovation in structure but I didn’t get much say in how that was implemented. As a project manager you have much more opportunity to do that.

“I think I had progressed as far as possible in my career and it was time to move on and broaden my horizons. There wasn’t too much retraining involved and Capita Symonds paid for me to do the Association for Project Management course, which gave me an insight into the whole project lifecycle.

“Opportunities in project management are always there. All you really need is to be well organised, determined and hard working.”

Paul Beningfield, 41

Beningfield was a quantity surveyor for 14 years before he did a postgraduate degree in European business and moved into project management. He now works for Hunter & Partners.

“You do get paid quite well as a project manager, but the real attraction is having an overview of the project. It’s good to stand at the top looking down and see how you’re going to get somewhere.

“I’ve got about 22 years experience in construction and I think when you start off you’re not exactly sure where it’s going to lead. I was a site engineer and then did a degree and worked as a building surveyor for about 14 years. Eventually I moved into project management as a sort of natural progression.

“I did go back to university to do a postgraduate course in European business, because as a project manager you really need to understand the client’s perspective on commercial decisions. I did a full-time course, but the company I was with at the time, ISG Occupancy, let me keep working two-and-a-half days a week.

“That was about four years ago. It cost me about £6,000 but it was worth every penny. I had my own company for a while but then Hunter asked me to come for an interview. We got on well and the company made me a good offer, so I hung up my small business came to work for them.”

Rick Archer, 46

Archer worked as both a quantity surveyor and an estimator before retraining as a project manager. From there he went on to be design manager for Provian Construction.

“I was in a position where I was put on site as a surveyor but I was also taking on on-site supervision duties. My line manager felt I had a certain aptitude and asked me if I would consider becoming a project manager.

“I accepted for two reasons. First, I had developed a taste for the sharp end. To be controlling the actual construction process and seeing it happen in front of me was a different experience. Second, I had a touch of ambition and arrogance, in that I remember thinking ‘I can do that job as well as other people’. I went back to college part time for three years which Dunn Builders, the company I was with at the time, paid for.

“When I changed to being a site-based manager I looked back and realised there were a bunch of things I knew the answers to from dealing with problems in my previous role.

“At Provian I now work very closely with architects, engineers and designers. In the past I’ve worked with the more hands-on guys – chippies and bricklayers. I think there is a gulf between the two and I’ve been fortunate to work with both. It gives you a more rounded view of the problems we face in the industry.”

Why one man is sticking with quantity surveying..

Andrew Brown, 41

Brown has worked as a quantity surveyor since he retrained 15 years ago. Before that he ran his own business as a plastering contractor. He has no plans to switch to project management.

“The good thing about being a quantity surveyor rather than a project manager is that you’re involved. You’re still in the thick of it, but you can also step back.

“I like the flexibility of the job and the fact you’re always meeting different people. I also like that you get to see the job through from start to finish. I know you get to do this if you are a project manager too, but to be honest, they have a hell of a lot of responsibility. We deal purely with the cost, value and commercial aspects. Project managers often have to work weekends to make things happen. I don’t work weekends.”

The job

Position: Project manager
Duties involve:

  • Managing and tendering pre-contracts works
  • Some aspects of design at the initial stages of the project
  • Procurement Feasibility studies
  • Cost management
  • Client contact
  • Managing the project from inception, to completion and handover
  • Co-ordinating architects, surveyors and contractors and liaising with consultants
  • Occasional business development
  • Monitoring site and project progress, through inspections

The role differs according to the project’s size and the size of the consultant or contractor you work for.

Information provided by Sarah Kennedy, section manager at Hays