Women in Construction: Quantity Surveying in the Middle East

Abigail Valenzuela
I’m an intermediate quantity surveyor (IQS) at Faithful+Gould’s Abu Dhabi office. Growing up in a modest home, I was interested in better houses, and how these could impact peoples’ lives. This led me to consider the construction industry.

I began my career with a degree in civil engineering from a university in my native country, the Philippines. Although not my first choice of course (I originally wanted to be an architect), civil engineering was the one construction course available at my local state university, the only affordable higher education option. The five-year course gave me a good grounding in the industry. As well as the professional subjects, the course included a summer programme where we did masonry, carpentry and plumbing, so we gained practical skills too.

My next step was to join one of the top construction companies based in the Philippines as a trainee quantity surveyor, spending six years working on cost plans and estimates, and even learning Japanese. It was satisfying work, but I was keen to travel, broaden my horizons, and find a better future for myself, my husband and our young daughter.

I was really pleased to be offered a quantity surveyor job in December 2013.

I chose Abu Dhabi, as I knew there would be job opportunities, and family members lived there. I spotted Faithful+Gould on LinkedIn and I did a lot of research on how to get into the company. I already knew Atkins through its design/planning role on a project I worked on in the Philippines. I pitched an email to Steven Batchelor, who is now my boss, and luckily I got an interview a few days later. I was really pleased to be offered a quantity surveyor job in December 2013.

I stayed with my brother-in-law for the first few months, then I was able to bring my husband and daughter to join me, and we found our own home, just a few minutes’ walk from the office. Faithful+Gould was really supportive during my relocation, guiding me through the process and helping me get my visa. It all turned out to be simpler that I’d expected.

I’m very proud to be part of the Faithful+Gould team. I’m working mostly on pre-contract projects across a number of sectors such as infrastructure, hospitality and retail. My key retail projects at the moment include Al Zahia Mall in Sharjah, a neighbouring emirate, and also Abu Dhabi’s Reem Mall.

I have a career plan, which includes achieving internationally recognised qualifications - I’m planning a master’s degree and I also want to embark on the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors assessment of professional competence (RICS APC). My other ambition is to develop into a more senior role. Faithful+Gould helps my plans stay on track with quarterly reviews and my annual Performance Development Review (PDR) conducted by my line manager.

This is a great time to be a woman in the construction industry and I’d warmly encourage other women to explore the many opportunities available.

Job security is important to me, and I appreciate working for an organisation that treats employees well. I was also relieved to find that Abu Dhabi itself is family-friendly. My three-year-old daughter loves the park, beach and the community, and we all enjoy the office’s leisure activities – recently I joined in a charity fun run, a great way to exercise while having fun and meeting people.

This is a great time to be a woman in the construction industry and I’d warmly encourage other women to explore the many opportunities available. I’m also glad to be working for a company that strives for a diverse workforce. The Atkins and Faithful+Gould Women’s Business Network has recently been set up in the Middle East to help females in the business cope with the challenges of working in construction, a traditionally male-dominated industry - I can’t wait for our first annual event in October! It’s been a long journey, but I believe I reap what I sow. All my past work experience has been valuable and rewarding, leading me to where I am today – and it feels like a good place to be.

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