When I started working in construction, I took a temporary office job for a construction company. I needed a job. I had all the usual misconceptions about what goes on in construction – the wolf whistling, the dirty building sites, the "Sorry for the inconvenience" signs and the negative male attitudes towards women.
I had no idea that seven years later I would look back and see that I had been involved in some of the most high profile building sites in the UK, met the Queen, twice, and helped to inspire hundreds of amazing young people to get into great careers.
I've worked with organisations like the University of Manchester, The Co-operative, Manchester Airport Group, Manchester City Football Club and numerous councils and schools, but most of all work with some truly inspiring people – within my organisation and outside it.
There’s one line you hear a lot from people who have worked in the industry for a couple of years or more and when you say it for the first time, it fills you with pride. The line is "I built that.”
What’s brilliant about this line is that it’s impossible for one person to build something alone – quite the opposite, there are hundreds of people involved in a construction project from planning and design through to project management, the construction process itself, the commissioning and getting the building to actually work.
But the line encompasses what the construction industry does well – it gets people to work together and recognise that the part they play is a crucial one.
The job I do is a slightly unusual one and one that most people will never have heard of. I am an “Education and Community Co-ordinator”.
This means that when we are building something – anything from a school to a new state of the art Football Academy, I have the responsibility to ensure we give something back to the local community. This might be through offering unemployed people training, helping people get into work, going into schools to talk about careers in construction or helping a local community group or charity.
I have to work with clients (customers), colleagues, voluntary organisations, councils, other construction companies and sub-contractors (these are the organisations who do the different elements of the building work).
One thing I am really passionate about for anyone who is thinking about getting into construction is that the best thing you can do is to get some work experience.
A lot of work experience gets really bad press but so many people come into the industry this way. It gives both parties a chance to see how each other gets on. I have seen so many people come on placement, love it, get a job or return a year or two later and apply for a job – that’s students and older people alike.
As an industry, we need people who want to be a part of this great sector to come and find out and bring their passion for learning and new experiences with them.
Ultimately, my original misconceptions have proved to be just that. More women need to come and find out for themselves and add a new dimension to construction to help make it an even stronger industry.