Graduates in Construction: The Transition to Experienced Professional

Jack Sweet
I was surprised to find myself on a construction management degree course, as I’d initially thought that my family’s line of business wasn’t for me! But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I liked seeing progress happening, and I already had an understanding of the industry from working for my family.

After ‘A’ levels in geography, English literature, history and psychology, I went to Nottingham Trent University. I really rate their construction management course – it was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed it. For my third year placement, I discovered a Faithful+Gould US opportunity on our university portal. I applied for Arizona and didn’t get it, but after persistence (lots of emailing) and a bit of luck, I was offered a 10-month internship at their Los Angeles office.

It felt surreal to be on my way to the US, but I settled quickly after being met at the airport by one of my new colleagues, taken to the corporate apartment where I lived for the next ten months, then picked up for work the next day. My first impression of the more relaxed west coast working environment was ‘where are all the suits?’! It was very different from the more sombre UK.

...after persistence (lots of emailing) and a bit of luck, I was offered a 10-month internship at their Los Angeles office.

It was still business as usual though, and I got stuck into office-based work initially, helping with bids and marketing. I then worked on site, helping with estimates and cost projections at a BP oil refinery – it was challenging, but I got great support from my colleagues. It was interesting to learn more about the US way of operating construction projects – I’d describe it as a little less rule-bound, maybe easier to get things done, while still running projects safely and efficiently. Social life was good too. I was made very welcome by everyone I met at Faithful+Gould and I’d encourage anyone interested in placements abroad to persevere and just go for it.

I like to plan ahead and towards the end of my time in LA I was thinking about my future. With one more year at university, I was keen to organise the best graduate opportunity I could find. I’d been really impressed with Faithful+Gould, so I asked my US senior vice president if he’d support me with arranging a UK summer placement before term started. This led to a few weeks in the Birmingham office – something of a culture shock, with a much bigger office, and of course back to British formality, suits and all. More really useful experience and a chance to reshape my new skills for the UK market.

At the end of the placement I was delighted to be offered a graduate project manager position for the following year, subject to getting a 2:1 in my degree. This was a great incentive to work really hard in my final year. It paid off, as I graduated with a first, and I also was part of the winning team in the final year project, receiving an award from Willmott Dixon. The project splits the year group into small groups who compete to run a fictitious site. We then pitched our ideas and provided site-related documents to Willmott Dixon – my team was very proud to win.

At the end of the placement I was delighted to be offered a graduate project manager position for the following year, subject to getting a 2:1 in my degree.

After my last exam, I flew to LA to catch up with friends and former colleagues, and a few weeks later, in July 2014, I started at Faithful+Gould’s Birmingham office on the graduate development programme. The studying continues though, as I need a route to APC eligibility. I’ve just finished the first year of a master’s degree in construction project management at Birmingham City University. It’s been hard work studying alongside working, but I was given day release, and I got a distinction for the first year. So it’s straight on to the final year, and I’ll be starting my APC diary at the same time.

In Birmingham I’m the only new graduate in the project management team, but we also have quantity surveyors and building surveyors on the graduate development programme. In LA, one of our main areas is oil refinery work, whereas in Birmingham we’re involved in many sectors, especially commercial. Similar to placements, I started off slowly, but was given more responsibility once my colleagues could see what I’m capable of.

Looking ahead, I’d love to work abroad again, as Faithful+Gould offers such varied opportunities, but I’m keen to consolidate my experience on home territory first.

A year later, I’m now managing a small project on my own, Walsall markets regeneration, liaising with a senior project manager when I need to. I’m responsible for the programme’s key dates, producing the project execution plan (PEP), liaising with consultants, motivating the team and keeping the momentum going – people skills are really important in project management. I’ve also been involved in The Moor, Sheffield, and student accommodation at the University of Warwick.

Looking ahead, I’d love to work abroad again, as Faithful+Gould offers such varied opportunities, but I’m keen to consolidate my experience on home territory first. I’m also interested in encouraging others into the industry. I’ve been to talk at my old school, and I’m looking forward to becoming more involved in our STEM initiative with schools and colleges. Atkins is further integrating the STEM initiative into graduate development, producing Atkins-wide STEM content and presentations, and promoting STEM-related work experience programmes, so it will be exciting to play a part.

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