Building a career and bucking tradition

Lucy Williams, Quantity Surveying graduate

A University of South Wales graduate has told how part-time study helped her land a dream job in the construction industry.

Lucy Williams, from Ridgeway in Newport, took a less than traditional route into higher education, having attended several different schools and enrolling at university after gaining an apprenticeship with her employer.

The 25-year-old went on to achieve a first class honours degree from the University of South Wales in Quantity Surveying and Commercial Management, and now works for Arcadis as UK Regional Sector Manager for Infrastructure.

She is also a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Matrics board, which was created to look after the interests of members entering or not long in the profession of surveying. 

As part of National Apprenticeship Week (14th to 18th March) Lucy wants to encourage other young people to consider the benefits of learning while earning.

She said: “Looking back at my educational background, it was pretty diverse; I attended five schools – catholic, state, private, single-sex and mixed – two colleges, a City & Guilds approved training facilities and two Universities; one in Wales (USW) and the other in China.

“If I’m being brutally honest, I wasn’t particularly interested in school; I suffer from Dyslexia, so had problems concentrating on subjects that didn’t capture my imagination. Like many, I much preferred being outside doing sports and socialising rather than being confined to a classroom, however I was strong academically and felt pressured to go down the “traditional” route of GCSEs, A Levels and University — when all I really wanted to do was work.”

After completing her GCSEs, and a brief encounter with AS Levels at a local college, Lucy decided to follow her passion, go against the grain and be a little different. She enrolled onto a multi-skills qualification in bricklaying, plastering and carpentry to gain a better understanding of the process involved in construction projects.

“Instead of the smell of sawn timber, the rumble of mixers and countless blisters (from carrying bricks) scaring me off, I realised that this was absolutely the right career for me,” she added.

“I secured a job working for a house builder while studying for a BTEC certificate in construction at Coleg Gwent, which could be considered as a modern-day apprentice scheme. This approach helped develop both my technical and practical understanding of the industry, captured my imagination and kept me focused.”

It was a challenging time for Lucy: the recession had hit, big corporations and SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) were struggling, construction had slowed and house prices fell dramatically. Countless young and older professionals were being made redundant and, in many cases, leaving the construction industry all together.

But despite the difficulties, and the temptation of full-time employment, Lucy’s employer encouraged her to further her education at the University of South Wales, where she was supported through a part-time degree in quantity surveying.

“Studying at USW offered me excellent opportunities for a career in property and construction, so that I could enter the profession with exactly the knowledge and skills that employers were looking for.

“The top-class facilities were vital to my study and the University’s strong links with industry meant that site visits, work placements and job opportunities were all part of the course, and helped prepare me for the workplace as soon as I graduated.”

She added: “It wasn’t until my final year at university that the industry showed clear signs of recovery and morale began to grow. This ‘break in the stormy sky’ allowed us to finally see a clearer and brighter future for us all.

“It was a hugely rewarding year for me personally. I was picked to attend the inaugural Arcadis Global Shapers Development Programme and travelled to Paris to work with young professionals from all around the world. I also secured a leading role on a major transformational programme at Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, spent time abroad working towards a certificate in Mandarin and Chinese Business at Zhejiang University through Study China, and, to top it all off, I attained a First Class Honours Quantity Surveying degree from USW.

“I truly believe that the skills and experience gained during my early years in the industry, working and studying at the same time, provided a great foundation to build on for the future. I had less concerns around funding for university, was being paid more than my friends and it catapulted my career progress beyond peers who followed the ‘traditional’ route.

“I would urge parents, employers and young people to seriously consider the benefits of apprenticeships. In recent years, they have received huge investment, which has made them more accessible and, more importantly, more relevant (plus you get paid a lot more).

“Quite frankly, whether you want to travel, work on-site, work in an office or even use drones on a daily basis, there is a career for you within land, property and construction.”

#engineering-civil #surveying #construction #women