Talent mobility in project management

Sophie Hurst
There’s more than one way to get into the world of project management. Sophie Hurst made the transition, demonstrating that a non-cognate background need not be a barrier.

Approaching the end of my Fine Art degree at Chester University in 2014, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I successfully sold all my final exhibition pieces, but I knew that it would be difficult to make a viable career as an artist. I had enjoyed teamwork assignments at university and I felt that good communication skills and an analytical turn of mind were among my strengths. But I wasn’t certain how to harness these at this point.

As a student I’d had a four-week placement in the graphic design department of SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business. This gave me exposure to some of the roles in a construction-focused consultancy.

Following my placement, I successfully applied for an internal position as a project support officer. This role was my first contact with project managers—and I thought ‘I could do that.’ My line manager was supportive of my ambition and helped me expand my role to include a variety of other responsibilities.

I secured a two-month secondment to SNC-Lavalin’s Faithful+Gould business in Edinburgh, as an assistant project manager. This gave me new insight into the business, familiarity with the property sector, and experience on some exciting projects at the University of Edinburgh site office. Working under a project manager, and based at the University of Edinburgh site office, I liaised with contractors, set up documentation systems and organised meetings.

After my time in Edinburgh, my taste for project management was uppermost and I was offered another fantastic project management secondment. This time I worked on a national roll out programme for The Co-operative Group, Manchester, and as part of a Programme Management Office for the Airport City Manchester development.

I was delighted to be appointed as a permanent member of the Faithful+Gould team in 2016, cementing my project management career plans. I started on the Faithful+Gould graduate programme at this point and I really value this structured training path.

I want to become an RICS chartered project manager. It’s a five-year route and I’m currently on year one. To accomplish all the necessary chartership competencies, I may need to gain experience in other areas of the business. Luckily there is the flexibility to do this in-house, in the same way that my career path to date reflects the flexibility of Faithful+Gould.

For anyone wanting to follow a similar path, I’d advise being self-motivated and persistent, actively networking and looking for opportunities. If you don’t have a degree in a built environment subject, you’ll need to rapidly expand your knowledge base as an extra-curricular activity. That takes time and commitment, but has to be done. Technical skills can be acquired, so don’t be put off. It may actually be harder to acquire communication and people skills, if these don’t come naturally to you.

I still enjoy art and I take some painting commissions. But I’m happy to have found an alternative career that offers so many different possibilities.

For anyone considering a role in construction you will be able to apply for 2019 graduate roles in September and industrial placements in October.

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