Current employer: Willmott Dixon Construction
Current job title: Sustainability Manager
Current location: Cobham, Surrey
“Try to get as much work experience under your belt as possible. I’ve had a number of work experience students with me over summer and if I was hiring again they would without a shadow of a doubt be the first people I’d get in touch with.”Tell us what you have been doing since completing your studies.
I was offered a job as an Assistant Sustainability Manager with Willmott Dixon whilst I was still studying at the University of Plymouth. When I handed in my masters dissertation I had already worked at WDC for about three months.
Has your career path changed since graduation?
My career path changed plenty of times before graduation (I had previously studied sociology/anthropology as well as architecture) and my ideas of what I wanted to do after graduation were wide and varied. I considered working in so many sectors as I have so many different interests, but by complete accident happened to stumble upon this opportunity at Willmott Dixon through a friend who already worked for the company. Once I graduated, my career path did not change; I have remained with Willmott Dixon due to the fantastic career progression opportunities within the business. I was promoted to Sustainability Manager about a year ago and now head up my own department.
What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?
My role is largely focused on staff training and giving presentations to internal and external audiences and, when I first started working, my expertise in sustainable construction was pretty limited. My first presentations were therefore fairly daunting, but I soon realised that even if my knowledge was limited (at least to start with) I usually still knew a lot more about sustainability than my audience, so my confidence grew pretty rapidly and the construction knowledge soon followed. I am still constantly learning (as I think everyone is in this industry as it changes and develops quite rapidly) but am now extremely comfortable with inducting new staff members, leading training sessions, and talking in front of large audiences at conferences and team meetings; it’s actually one of my most favourite parts of my job.
What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?
I recently completed a Sustainability Scholarship for the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) which, in its essence, consisted of writing another 15,000-word dissertation. The most fun (but also most daunting) bit was the presentation of my findings at the end of the scholarship. I had to host a presentation evening and share my findings in front of an audience of 80 industry leaders and professionals, including very senior members of the CIOB, the Worshipful Company of Constructors, as well as trade press. The support I received from Willmott Dixon both throughout the duration of the research project and on the evening of the presentation was really overwhelming and the speech our Managing Director gave to introduce myself at the beginning of the evening was so heart-warming and humbling. I felt, and feel, so proud to be a part of the Willmott Dixon family (as cheesy as this might sound).
What, if anything, would you do differently if you could?
I don’t necessarily think I’d do anything differently, but in terms of advice, I would 100% recommend considering jobs in industries which you may not have considered previously. Also, don’t be afraid to be that person who always asks a million questions in meetings. Starting a career in any sector will always be a huge learning curve and I have not met a single person who did not appreciate the fact I was still learning when I first started working at our company.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the same line of work?
I think the construction industry is not very well understood and therefore many graduates may not necessarily consider a career within it unless they studied something directly relevant. Construction, however, is an industry that offers tremendous opportunities. Apart from the perhaps obvious construction management and quantity surveying paths, we have so many different career options ranging from graphic design to supply chain management and everything in between. The industry is constantly growing and the opportunities for progression are endless. Many of the directors within Willmott Dixon started out as management trainees; the sky really is the limit. If it’s a career in sustainability you’re after, working in construction can offer a considerable amount of personal freedom in terms of being in charge of your own targets and strategies. I feel it’s definitely an industry where you can really make an impact. It’s also an industry that has particularly suited me personally as every single day is different for me: I meet different people, talk about different subjects and different projects every day which I personally love.
How did studying at Plymouth help you?
Even if the content of most of my education (my bachelors was in Human Geography) was not directly related to what I now do on a day-to-day basis, studying at Plymouth has first and foremost given me a ridiculous amount of confidence and equipped me with plenty of ‘softer skills.’ I particularly feel that my communication skills really developed throughout university and when I was hiring an assistant earlier this year that was the most important thing I was looking for in applicants. You can always teach someone the technical ins and outs of a position, whereas confidence is something that is pretty hard to teach.
Do you stay in touch with other University of Plymouth alumni or lecturers?
Yes, I’m still in touch with friends from university as well as some lecturers. When I was hiring earlier this year I got in touch with some of my lecturers to see if they could think of any suitable alumni or students who might be interested in the role I was trying to fill. We’ve actually got quite a few Plymouth graduates working at our company, all from a range of backgrounds working in a range of different roles.
Would you recommend undertaking a course with the University of Plymouth, and why?
Absolutely. First of all, Plymouth is a brilliant city and its seaside location will really make up for long nights in the library. Secondly (and probably more importantly), the lecturers at the university are extremely passionate about their subjects and I have so many fond memories of long discussions and debates with some of them. I always felt extremely well supported by my lecturers and especially when writing my masters dissertation I felt like I could always rely on my supervisor to get back to me as soon as possible (sometimes at 10pm after attending a long conference abroad) which I really appreciated.
Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?
Try to get as much work experience under your belt as possible. I’ve had a number of work experience students with me over summer and if I was hiring again they would without a shadow of a doubt be the first people I’d get in touch with. Work experience is a brilliant way of testing the waters and seeing if an industry, role, or company is for you and gives you the opportunity to make really valuable connections.
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