Bid Coordinator, Emma Calow, began her career in Construction in 2022 through the Women into Construction scheme. To mark Women in Construction Week (6th – 10th March 2023), Emma has shared her experience of the industry so far:
- Why construction? What attracted you to the industry?
During the pandemic I had space between roles and decided it was a good time to move in a new direction. So, I spent time self-reflecting on my experience, values and my professional and personal skill-set. I wanted to future-proof my skills and explore industries I hadn’t previously considered, motivated by the desire to improve my work/life balance and make a positive difference to society. With the support of different mentors, I explored the tech industry, civil service and learning and development roles. Off the back of a coaching session, I was encouraged to look at my skill-set from a different angle – particularly my experience in creative, commercial and project management. From these conversations I learnt about the organisation ‘Women into Construction’ (WiC) and this was when my journey into the industry began.
That introduction led me to attend WiC’s International Women’s Day event where I heard directly from speakers who had made the move to the industry. I saw the pro-activeness from some major employers who had clear strategies for diversifying their work force and I discovered roles within construction that I was previously unaware of. Following the event, I decided to join the WiC employment programme at a large building site in the City of London. The sponsors (LandSec, Sir Robert McAlpine and Gratte Brothers) offered a 2-week placement on this complex construction site, including training for the CSCS card (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) and Health and Safety at CONEL (the College of Northeast London).
The on-site Gratte Brothers team were incredibly welcoming and went out of their way to support a group of keen learners who had lots of questions. I shadowed Gratte Brothers’ project manager Clair Townsend and quickly realised that my existing skills transferred well to the role – I just needed to build my technical knowledge.
Following the work placement, I interviewed with Gratte Brothers, exploring routes into the business and open vacancies I might be suitable for with their HR team. However, it became clear that to work in project management I would need to retrain which would take a couple of years. This wasn’t a feasible option for me at the time, so I looked at other non-technical roles in the company. This then led to a meeting with the Managing Director and the Commercial Manager of Gratte Brothers Specialist Services (GBSS) and we found a strong skills match to a vacancy in their commercial team. I’ve now been in role as their Commercial Bid Coordinator for 5 months!
- Which industry were you working in before?
I spent 20 years building a career in the fast-paced world of creative retail design at a variety of global and high-profile brands where I thrived bringing ideas to life and developing teams. There are some parallels between retail design and construction: both are about creating a solution that serves customers’ needs. I had experience of opening new stores and a basic appreciation of the complexities of constructing a building, but since joining Gratte Brothers I can now easily spot ducting, risers and different types of plant equipment wherever I go!
My improved work/life balance has been liberating as I spent years working weekends and late nights in previous companies. At Gratte Brothers I am now office based, so can enjoy the Group’s agile working policy which is a huge bonus. I like the variety and scope of different roles that construction offers and the opportunity to apply both technical and commercial knowledge to each job.
- What has your experience of the industry been like with Gratte Brothers?
Overall, my introduction to the industry has been positive – I’ve found that people are friendly and helpful. In the team at Gratte Brothers, I have found a genuine openness to connect and share knowledge, and I bonded with the on-site team over common experiences. On my placement site (which was a large Central London development) where there are hundreds of people from lots of different subcontractors, women are still a novelty due to the lack of representation in technical areas. However, I only experienced curiosity from (non-Gratte-Brothers) tradespeople who may not have had much experience of seeing a woman in PPE.
- What does ‘a day in the life’ look like in your role?
My role at GBSS is in ‘post construction’ – bidding to win contracts for the maintenance of clients’ mechanical and electrical services. We specialise in planned preventative maintenance services (PPM) which is a crucial but often unseen part of what keeps a building operational, efficient and a comfortable environment for its occupants.
Every day is different, for example I could be working on a pitch document (known as tenders), using my digital layout and copywriting skills. Or, I could be connecting with multiple specialist subcontractors to gather costs as part of the estimating process. I have recently attempted my first “labour loading” using SFG20, the industry standard for building maintenance specification and timings. This was a revelation and very useful to have up my sleeve in my personal life when managing different trades! My favourite part of the job is working with others; being out on site surveying a new client building and working cross-functionally with the wider team at Gratte Brothers. Recently, I became a Mental Health First Aider which is an area close to my heart and I hope to play a part in raising the profile of this topic in the workplace.
- Where do you hope to be in 5 years’ time?
A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for me to have considered working in building services – but here I am! You can make a 5-year plan, but then situations can happen that are outside your control and end up taking you in a completely different direction to the one you planned for. So, I believe it is crucial to keep a flexible mindset.
After just a short time in my role, I can already see some key development areas I would like to explore. I hope that in the future I can use my coaching and development skills to encourage new talent into the industry as I’m aware that recruitment can often be challenging. I would also love to contribute to Gratte Brothers’ efforts in driving environmental sustainability forward at site level: going beyond a tick box exercise to more practical actions such as the reuse of small “waste” on-site (e.g. the nuts and bolts that end up on the floor every day).
- What would you say to any other women thinking about embarking on a career in construction?
If you are up for a challenge, then I say go for it!
I found that there is plenty of support out there to utilise. From tailored support via employment programmes like Women into Construction, to free government training initiatives and websites like goconstruct.org, there is plenty of information available. I also recommend connecting directly with your organisation of choice. HR teams are open to discuss career pathways, but you may need to be persistent and proactive.
My key tips are:
- Spend time analysing your current skillset—you will already have many transferable skills from your previous jobs.
- Be clear in how you put yourself forward and what you can offer a company.
- Don’t underestimate your soft skills; I have seen how powerful teamworking abilities, strong communication skills and self-leadership can be to making an impact in any new job, but especially if the sector is different from your past work experience. Good employers value these skills immensely and will often support you to develop more technical skills if they see a match between your values and the companies’.Ultimately, it’s best to “try before you buy”, so take advantage of work placement or shadowing opportunities in different companies. These experiences broaden your thinking and give you the chance to meet interesting people, make new friends and build your network which all helps for the future. If you want a job working on site, I would say that having a thick skin, strong self-leadership and great banter are crucial.Be memorable through your curiosity, professionalism, and willingness to get stuck in!
If you’re looking to kick start your career in construction, keep an eye on our Vacancies page for our latest opportunities or contact firstname.lastname@example.org (no agencies, please).