There's More Than One Way into Construction

Keshiv Prabhakar
Traditional graduate entry into the consultancy professions is not the only way in. I joined as a trainee and I'm now on a masters programme at a top business school – all while working on landmark construction projects.

Discovering the construction industry

In 2006, I persuaded Faithful+Gould that I wasn’t too old, at 21, to be a trainee quantity surveyor on their apprenticeship scheme. I’d left my university course in politics after just a year, disillusioned with the subject, and taken a job in retail while considering my next step. A friend told me about quantity surveying, and when I looked at the opportunities offered by Faithful+Gould and Atkins, I felt inspired to apply.

The trainee route

Soon I was back at university once a week, sponsored by Faithful+Gould, on the Greenwich five-year part-time degree course in quantity surveying. This time, I was much more motivated and I could see a clear career path. I was very aware that the business was investing in me, and I was determined to prove worthy.

Being part of something big

Faithful+Gould’s Tunbridge Wells office was a stimulating and nurturing learning environment. There was a sense of belonging and great team camaraderie. My enthusiasm was welcomed and colleagues gave me responsibility and guidance, ensuring my development was steep but manageable. Throughout my trainee years, I was given great project exposure. To my surprise, I was never the “tea guy” or the “photocopier guy”.

One of the things that I enjoyed most was seeing that tangible end product after our hard work. I love being part of something big, working on spaces that affect people’s lives. I still walk through St Pancras International and Ebbsfleet International stations with a huge sense of pride! It feels great to have a stake in these public-facing projects.

Studying as a way of life

University was hard work, alongside the rest of the week at work, but I graduated with a first in 2011. I was the first trainee to achieve this, proving that this can be a great route. In 2012, I passed my RICS APC chartership. I was a year ahead of schedule, having started the APC during my final year at university - conscious of being older than graduate entrants and wanting to crack on. Passing felt like a watershed moment.

Finding the best masters programme

By 2013 I was thoroughly enjoying my work as a senior quantity surveyor, seconded to the redevelopment of London Bridge Station, another landmark project. But I had a nagging suspicion that I wasn’t yet finished with education! I started to look at masters programmes, wondering whether an MSc in construction law or an MBA would be more beneficial.

I’d visited Cass Business School, and eventually I set my heart on their Executive MBA programme. Cass is in the heart of the City, ranked among the world’s top business schools, and I wanted to aim for the best. I presented my business case to my director, demonstrating how the programme aligned with our business strategy and would add value to my marketable skills.

Faithful+Gould’s sterling encouragement surfaced again. I could even expect some sponsorship – although not the full cost of the MBA. And the chances of getting in were slim. It’s highly competitive, average age is 37 and I was ten years younger. I was invited to interview and tried not to get my hopes up.

Exhausted but exhilarated

To everyone’s astonishment, not least mine, I got in. I started my MBA in September 2013. It’s brilliant – everything I hoped for – but such hard work. There are two three-hour evenings at university every week, and I spend the other evenings and every weekend studying. But studying alongside work is a way of life for me, and I’m driven by the conviction that I’m investing my time and money in my future.

International perspective

One of my career highlights was a week in Santiago, Chile, as part of my MBA. In a small team, I carried out an assessed consultancy exercise for a small company. They had built a telemetry and telecommunications monitoring system, and we interrogated and made recommendations for their business plan. It was exciting to be involved with a completely different industry – but of course the aim was to create value and competitive advantage, so not so very different.

Improving the Cabinet Office's image

Recently I had a fantastic opportunity to take part in a voluntary project that reimagines the UK civil service. Three MBA teams presented recommendations for improving the Cabinet Office's image to Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office. This was the first time the Cabinet Office has invited MBA students to undertake a consultancy project in this way, so it was great for Cass Business School and all the individuals involved.

The project gave me a real-life opportunity to implement some of the core MBA areas, including group-work dynamics and leadership skills. The final presentation was an awesome occasion. Walking along the corridors of Whitehall, with a cabinet minister genuinely interested in our team’s recommendations – it was surreal.

Giving back

Back in 2006, Faithful+Gould gave me a chance, even though I wasn’t a typical trainee candidate, so I like to do my bit for other young entrants to the industry. I wasn’t aware of these professions when I was 16 to 18 – I’d have come straight in if I’d known! CIOB has an entry level group called Novus and I was the inaugural chairman of the CIOB Kent Novus group in 2013-14. I’m now vice chairman of the CIOB South East Branch Novus Committee.

I’ve helped with the annual Atkins graduate induction event, facilitating a team building exercise and manning the Faithful+Gould careers stand. I’ve also given careers presentations to local schools and organised successful work experience placements at my local office.

Towards the future

At Faithful+Gould it’s realistic to dream, to have aspirations. The business mirrors my own ambition, and it feels like a good partnership. I value the great relationships I’ve been able to cultivate here.  In the next five years I want to consolidate my skills, broaden my sector experience and continue to learn from my role models. After that, I see myself moving away from technical delivery towards business delivery and strategy, and I hope to become senior leadership material.