One of Robert Steer’s ambitions is to meet the person who built the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, the world’s tallest. This is the kind of enthusiasm coveted by construction firms. The 22-year-old has been fascinated by tall buildings since he was a child – so much so that he decided to make his career in construction. “Seeing big buildings like superstructures it’s like, Wow, how do you do that? I want to find out more,” he says.

His first step towards learning more about those superstructures was a Btech and an HND in building studies. He took up a post as design-and-build co-ordinator on Willmott Dixon’s graduate training programme after a couple of years with a surveyor, and he is now halfway through his degree in construction management at Anglia Polytechnic University. Most construction outfits offer graduate training programmes, so what attracted him to Willmott Dixon?

Steer had several criteria. He wanted a clear training programme set out from the beginning, financial incentives and long-term opportunities for training once he had graduated. “I wanted support in terms of a career and getting a degree and becoming a professional. Salary was not a contributing factor but pension was. Willmott Dixon pay a pension contribution of 7.5%.”

There were other financial incentives, in particular the chance to share a pot of gold at the end of each project. “You have to meet certain targets but there is a pay-out. You put the effort in and they reward you for it and everyone’s happy.”

Steer is so enthusiastic about the industry that he cannot believe that other people find it an unattractive sector to work in. Mulling the question over for a few minutes he concludes: “I suppose it’s to do with the way the message is put across. When I was at school, people wanted to be policemen or firemen but not someone from construction. I went into it because I’m interested in buildings and wanted to learn about them.”

Thinking things over a little more he reveals that two people on his degree course are going through a career crisis. They think construction might not be the career for them after all, although he isn’t sure why. “I don’t know if it’s the long haul to get to a managerial position or if the interest has gone. I do feel there is a lot of training and education. I’ve been studying for six years but I’m still a trainee. I know people who left school and went straight into a job earning more money than me, but in 20 years, they will still be down there while I hopefully will have gone up.”

Getting to the top of tall buildings is just one of Steer’s hopes for the future. He would also like to climb to a managerial position at Willmott Dixon in his early 30s on a salary of about £35 000. “At 30, I’d like to be a manager. It’s a bit of a challenge to get that far so quickly but it’s something to aim for,” he says.

What four frims are doing to impress graduates

Willmott Dixon
  • Has set up a financial incentive scheme that measures the performance of projects and rewards staff involved accordingly
  • Has introduced “Refer a Friend”: staff who put forward the name of an acquaintance for a job receive £700 if they are appointed
  • Displays in-house job vacancies on its intranet
  • Has set a target of 30% women graduate trainees
  • Runs the Construction Women’s Group, an internal forum for women in the company that acts as a think tank and support group
  • Has developed a design-and-build MSc with Luton University. This is offered to more senior staff
  • Forges links with schools
  • Runs the Citex Academy to organise training programmes for staff
  • Sponsors students through university
  • Is planning a pilot module of a graduate training programme in which students work alongside chief executive Oliver Jones for three months
  • Has established the Dolphin Group, a group of employees under 30 that meets to formulate ideas that are then presented to the board
  • Is looking at taking on graduates from other disciplines and putting them through professional training
  • Forges links with schools
  • Gives all staff the opportunity to do an MBA or MSc if they show aptitude
  • Gives graduates the opportunity to work in all areas of the business
  • Has started a sponsorship programme at Salford University
  • Assigns each graduate trainee a mentor within the company
  • Forges links with schools
  • Runs Gleeds Academy, a dedicated training centre in Nottingham
  • Sponsors final-year students and then offers them a job at the end of their course
  • Has set up a training and development directorate to improve in-house training
  • Forges links with schools