The construction industry is seeing an increase in the numbers of women joining the sector, 14 per cent, both on site, and off, according to parliament's research on Women and the economy. To find out how three women forged their career in the sector, we spoke to Helen Dawkins, Laura Zumbe and Emma Kirkwood of Miller Homes, to learn about their stories and any advice they have for women hoping to follow in their footsteps.
Name: Helen Dawkins
Job title: Planning director
How did you find your role as a planning director?
During my studies of urban planning and management BA (hons), my course was split between theoretical and practical learning, allowing us to gain some experience of the real world. While the classroom helped me build a good base of knowledge on the industry and my future role, the practical side provided an insight into the world of work and the importance of teamwork. One specific project provided the opportunity to complete an urban capacity study which involved identifying suitable sites for future development.After I graduated, this experience helped me secure my first job as a graduate planner in London, where I stayed for three years, developing my knowledge and skills. Once I had managed to secure enough experience, I began looking to move on to progress my career, which is when I discovered Miller Homes.Initially, my role with Miller Homes involved assisting the planning director, while managing smaller land applications by myself. Now, after 14 years, I have taken on that role and manage a small team, working on more complex projects across the entire Midlands region.
What advice would you offer for women thinking about a career in planning?
Generally when it comes to considering career options, it's important to think outside the subjects taken at school and consider your particular interests and skills. Search through the courses available at university and find one that can supply you with the relevant qualifications and knowledge needed for your chosen profession. The House Building Careers website has some great information about the vast array of careers and types of skills and qualifications needed for different roles within homebuilding. For planning specifically, joining a planning network can also be a great help, as it will offer continuous advice and support throughout your journey.The construction industry is an ever-evolving sector, with dozens of opportunities and career paths. After graduating from university, the vast majority of my course mates went on to become planning consultants, but I know others that have secured jobs in areas such as architecture and surveying. Nothing is set in stone for construction professionals so it's a great career option.
Name: Laura Zumbe
Job title: Project quantity surveyor
How did your find your role as a project quantity surveyor?
My time at university gave me a good foundation for a career in the industry and helped me build the knowledge I needed to get started, from understanding the basics of how a house is constructed, to the technical jargon used in day-to-day working life. After completing a BSc in building surveying, I started my first role as an assistant quantity surveyor for a housebuilder before moving to Miller Homes a year later.
What advice would you have for women going into surveying?
The industry is far more diverse now than even a couple of years ago. The important thing to remember is, regardless of gender, the road to a role in construction is never linear. While my university qualifications helped me secure this position, it is also helpful to gain additional experience and knowledge wherever you can. There are dozens of online courses and workshops supported by RICS that can help give you a leg up on the competition.If you would like to get into quantity surveying, do some research first and find a company that not only offers training schemes, but interests you as well. These schemes can really help you hit the ground running and provide valuable experience on how your working life will be in the future. Finally, be passionate and be dedicated – if you get knocked back, always ask for feedback and find out where you can improve.
Name: Emma Kirkwood
Title: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Developer
How did you find your role as a developer?
During my time at university, I understood that alongside my studies in web design and development, experience and personal connections could really help build the base of my career. As well as graduating with distinction and my experience as an IT specialist at a local school, these factors helped me land a role as a web developer immediately after graduation. After a year in this position, I decided to take my skills into the construction industry, where I became the CRM developer for Miller Homes.Now, alongside designing and developing new features for the apps we use to enhance the customer experience, I help staff understand how to use the apps, acting as the technical consultant. Even though I am based in the office, I still receive a great wave of satisfaction knowing that I am making – what can be a stressful process – a little bit easier.
What advice would you have for women looking to work in IT?
Since my course wasn't directly connected to the construction, it really goes to show how many opportunities are available for graduates. A degree gives you a good platform to develop your knowledge and skill set in many different industries and for me that is helping hundreds of people find their dream home. Never rest on your laurels while you're at university. Your studies can provide a great base of knowledge for your discipline, but experience is also really important. If an opportunity arises, make sure you take it, but if it doesn't, take matters into your own hands and find one