A woman in construction - my journey in to the industry

Alaina Tolhurst
How I discovered the construction industry...

Fascinated by social change and behaviour I undertook a degree in Criminology and Social Policy. It was the first time in my life I truly enjoyed learning, it led me to work in a youth homeless hostel and then eight years as a project manager in central government for an organisation called the Youth Justice Board.

This is not your typical start to working in construction. So how did I end up here?

Well, whilst working in government I did a lot of work on resettlement projects – projects that established ways to help young people rebuild their lives whilst in and when leaving prison. Part of this work was connecting these young people into jobs within construction. This wasn’t a new phenomenon, but it really does help so many people get their lives on track. This is where my interest was piqued.

I already had a huge passion for project management and helping people. I became really interested in the world of construction and how it connects so many different people from different walks of lives and creates communities, hubs and homes for all of us.

My main issue was how to go about it. Despite having project management qualifications my general credentials and experience were far from the typical. However, as my working experience grew I realised that project management is hugely transferable with the right skills and mindset. So, I decided to join a consultancy in a completely different field to test my theory. It was scary putting it into reality, but I’m pleased to say despite the stress of being completely out of my comfort zone, it paid off.  My first major role out of social projects was to manage a high-profile infrastructure project in an area new to me. I really enjoyed learning how to manage different types of projects, but it still wasn’t quite construction and so I started looking again.

An opportunity with F+G came up and I’d finally managed to join up my passion for projects, construction and societal contribution.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s a constant learning curve, but what good job or sector isn’t? There’s always new technologies and ways of working and it’s our job to stay on top of this evolving knowledge and best assess its use for each circumstance.

I love the variety of projects I can get involved in within this sector. I’m currently involved in a hospice extension which is incredibly rewarding, residential schemes for new affordable homes and even an art store attempting to be a social hub of a currently run-down area in need of regeneration.

The fact I’m a woman in construction has never really been at the forefront of my mind as an obstacle. I put my mind to what I wanted and set out to overcome the practical barriers, it never really occurred to me that it might be different for a man. That said, there’s no doubt it’s a very male dominated sector but that’s slowly changing, and people are recognising the skills both women and men can bring to the sector. Working in construction wasn’t exactly something that I was told about at school from the careers advisor, but neither was project management. It’s a real missed opportunity if we’re not teaching all people, men and women about the different types of careers they can have within construction and the value they can add within it.

People may see construction as just building things, I’ve always seen it as much more than that and I’m conscious of how we as a sector can continue to deliver the societal benefits whilst minimising the general disruption that can come with it.  The only way to influence that is to stay involved!

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