Books to Building Sites: non-cognate backgrounds in Faithful+Gould

Esther Waldren
Starting a career in the construction industry does not necessarily mean that you must have any previous experience in the industry, as I found out.

I joined Faithful+Gould as a ‘non-cognate’ which means I came to Faithful+Gould with zero construction knowledge. Coming from a different background to most of my colleagues has on occasions been challenging, however having a different set of skills also enables me to bring a different perspective to the table.

Being an English literature graduate, my most prized skill is being able to write a convincing essay on any subject. It’s how I got through school, and how I chose my university course. It also taught me that I did not want to be a teacher. Or a librarian. Or a journalist. These are the typical careers I was told by everyone I should be applying for. They all have one thing in common: you pick them for the sheer love of it – but I just really wasn’t feeling it.

After graduating from university, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. I had worked for the university newspaper whilst studying for my degree, and during that time I authored an impressive 27 articles, not to mention edited dozens more during my role as sports editor. I was offered a coveted placement at a Manchester magazine for winning The Lancaster Excellence Award. But it was the last thing I wanted to do in real life, and I never claimed my prize.

Following on from this, I took a temporary maternity cover job as a receptionist back home at Bath University, telling everyone that no, no I still don’t want to be a teacher.

During my time at Bath University I undertook a PRINCE2 Project Management course and it was at this point I realised there were other jobs out there: I had found something I could really get my teeth into.

When I met my now current boss, he invited me to the office for a chat about an assistant project manager role that was available. I had no idea what the job entailed, no idea what the construction industry was all about, and no relevant skills to my name at all, apart from ‘I’d probably be really good at writing reports…’

However, he had already accepted that I would be a ‘blank canvas’ and was more interested in if I had the right attitude to learn and strive, and whether I would be a good fit for the team.

That was a year ago and I’m still here, so I must be doing something right!

In the first couple of months, I found it really tough. I didn’t have a clue what anyone was talking about; I was faced with a different language that consisted mainly of acronyms. I had to learn to tone down the elaborately descriptive emails I’d been sending, and my colleague told me reading my meeting minutes was like reading a novel. But as time went on, I listened, adapted, and learned fast.

The truth is, the nitty gritty is best learnt on the job. I have a fantastic team to support me and give me a hand when I need one. I have a line manager who trusts me to give every task my best shot, to make mistakes, and then to try again. I have had to ask a lot of seemingly stupid questions in the office and out on site, but I have never been laughed at.

As time goes on, my background has even become a strength rather than a drawback. My colleagues know me as someone who’s ‘good with words’, so I have found myself helping others proofread everything from CVs to emails. It feels wonderful to be useful in my own unique way. And now, here I am writing an article! It’s totally surreal to have come full circle, but this time it’s to celebrate me finding my perfect career.

Faithful+Gould has supported me studying for a masters in construction project management at UWE and as a result I have come on in leaps and bounds over the year that I have been here. I finally feel like I have a good understanding of the construction industry and my role within it.

During my time at Faithful+Gould I have come to realise that my situation isn’t really all that unique. Many people around the Bristol office, where I am based, have come from similarly non-conventional backgrounds. Faithful+Gould supports people from all industries and backgrounds, seeing the value in facilitating a diverse skillset among its employees. This diversity of skills is vital for creating and developing strong and capable teams, for encouraging innovation and absolutely key to keeping our business at the cutting edge.

Faithful+Gould has programmes in place to support all graduates in their career providing them with the training they need to reach the next level.

I am so grateful that Faithful+Gould saw the value I can bring to the business. I have been welcomed into the fold and given every opportunity to learn. Best of all, I am given the chance to shine because of my non-conventional background, not in spite of it.

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