Comment: Construction no longer muddy, manual and male

I've found that the sector offers a wealth of opportunities, says Wong. Picture: contributed.
I've found that the sector offers a wealth of opportunities, says Wong. Picture: contributed.
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I was born in Malaysia and growing up, there was a brilliant TV ­programme about life working on airlines, so I instantly decided that I ­wanted to be a pilot when I was older.

Years later, I would realise that the skills I had wouldn’t necessarily be best suited for this profession, but that desire to help people and enrich their lives remained. At this point, I knew I wanted to work in the built environment, I just wasn’t quite sure doing what.

I didn’t get any careers advice at school, but I did go along to open day events as a high-school pupil, where various companies, including construction firms presented and spoke about the wealth of career opportunities available in the industry.

My dad was an engineer and my sister studied to be an architect, so I suppose I’ve always had construction in my blood. When I finished my A-levels in Malaysia, I followed my sister’s lead and choose to study in Scotland at Robert Gordon ­University in Aberdeen. I knew that working in construction would be an interesting and fulfilling career route for me and, because I have a love for maths, I chose to study a degree in quantity surveying.

While at Robert Gordon University, Kier was building the new Scott Sutherland School of Architecture, so I asked if they would consider taking me on to carry out a third-year work placement and, luckily for me, they said yes!

I worked with Kier for a full term and through the summer holidays and learnt so much as I shadowed a quantity ­surveyor who was working on a new ­student accommodation building in ­Aberdeen.

When I returned to university to complete my final year, I continued to work for Kier three days a week. This allowed me to apply practical skills to the theory that I was learning at university. I was also able to understand the culture of the business and knew that I wanted to work for Kier when I graduated. I was later ­successful in securing a place on the three-year graduate degree programme at the business, alongside 150 other graduates. I have ­completed my first year and feel it has ­given my career a real boost. Importantly, it’s provided me with all the tools, ­mentoring support and experience that I need to help me qualify for membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors at the end of my three years.

Moreover, the graduate programme has given me a great mix of practical on-the-job experience, formal learning, first line management skills, professional development and networking skills.

I’ve also been able to see, first-hand, the major infrastructure projects that Kier is involved in across the UK, together with the opportunity to do training courses.

I’m based at Kier Construction’s Aberdeen office and I’m currently working on a project with Aberdeenshire Council on their Social Housing Improvement Programme, where we will upgrade 4,000 properties.

I’ve found that the construction sector offers a wealth of opportunities, with varied and interesting work and a number of competitive benefits. It’s well-documented that the ­construction industry is suffering from a skills shortage and it’s clear to see that those in their 40s and 50s are much more dominant in the industry than those in their 20s or 30s. We need to find a way to debunk the myths that jobs within construction are “muddy”, “manual” and “male” and look to inspire the next generation about the vast array of jobs and routes to entry to the built environment.

I’m really pleased that Kier is committed to tackling this problem through its Shaping Your World campaign, where 1 per cent of its workforce are ambassadors and working with schools and colleges across the country to highlight all that this industry has to offer.

I intend to play my part, speaking to young people about my route into this fascinating sector. I might not be an airline pilot, but I’m carving out a career where the sky’s the limit!

Berratt Wong is a graduate quantity surveyor with Kier Construction Scotland.