The construction industry offers a wealth of opportunities for young people, however an article from the Federation of Master Builders indicates that women make up just 15% of the workforce. As part of DYW's #AJobForEverybody campaign, Dr Whitney Bevan explains how she came to work in construction and offers some advice for those seeking to enter the sector.
How did you take your first steps into the sector?
I studied an MSc in Renewable Energy: Technology and Sustainability at the University of Reading. Following this I became a Research Assistant and Doctoral Researcher and worked on construction projects that adopted renewable technology. I spoke and interacted with project managers, site assistants, designers, installers, the sales team, CEOs and occupants. It gave me more of an insight into the sector and I loved the critical thinking, evaluation of practices and materials, collaborative efforts and care behind the projects. I also undertook voluntary work during my studies, where I worked with solar energy installers, a low carbon community project and various local authorities.
Can you briefly outline your career journey from then until now?
Following my Research Assistant role, I studied a PhD investigating the skills for low carbon buildings. I had been lecturing in this role - and in the Research Assistant role, which gave me an insight into what I enjoyed, along with research in sustainable building delivery. I took my first permanent position in Sydney as a Lecturer in Construction Management. The new role, diverse culture and need to build my network was a great learning curve personally and for my career. A few years ago I decided I wanted to come back to the UK and applied for the role at RGU.
Did you have any mentors or key people who have inspired you in your own career?
My family have links to construction and both my parents have a passion for buildings and a comfortable home, so I was encouraged to follow what I was passionate about. I have also been exceptionally lucky to be surrounded by people who have supported my ambitions and advised me throughout my career. My PhD supervisors have been mentors to me; they helped me to develop my critical thinking and writing, as well as my professional skills as I transitioned into academia. My Dean at Western Sydney University was pivotal to my development as she always had time for conversations around work, research and professional guidance. I learned to be authentic and my confidence within teaching, learning and the research environment grew. At RGU I have fantastic informal and formal mentors.
I cannot stress how essential it is to have mentors - people you build trust with who can give you honest advice, who have been in your role or situation previously and want the best for you.
And can you share any career highlights or defining moments?
Getting my first permanent position as an academic in Sydney was a highlight of my career. It was a new university, a new place, diverse teaching experiences (classes of 500 students) and different types of construction sector organisations. It pushed me to build my network and embrace diverse ways of working.
I recently won my first funding for a research project. It was a small amount of funding, but as a researcher it gave me confidence that I am able to write proposals. It must start somewhere! The project findings fed back into my teaching, impacting students and generating an interest in the topic.
What do you enjoy most about working in the sector?
I am passionate about learning, incorporating the many ways that we can learn, as well as skills development among my students. Teaching and researching within the construction sector highlights that no two projects will be the same. The site, the people involved, the project objectives, the climate, the resources mean that every project is bespoke. The challenges within each project, as well as thinking how I prepare students for these challenges via my classroom teaching, makes it an exciting and enjoyable working environment.
Can you tell us something about the sector that might surprise young people?
In terms of the construction industry, as well as the many different roles required, young people will already be developing the skills they need. A Project Manager for instance, requires technical knowledge, however effective communication, organisational skills, listening, time management and the ability to work in a team are just as important.
Do you have any advice for a young person who’s looking to enter the sector?
Talk to those within the sector, or maybe shadow them for a few days! There are many more roles than those we see everyday. The construction industry involves site work, creative drawings, innovative thinking, detailed analysis and use of diverse software, as well as presentations, negotiations and confident conversations with clients. The creation of quality buildings and infrastructure needs all sorts of skills and abilities.
There are many pathways, from university to apprenticeships, which can be tailored to how best you learn and develop your current skill set.
Listen to Whitney speaking about why young people should work in construction in this podcast.
DYW's #AJobForEverybody campaign aims to celebrate diversity and inclusive practice in the workplace. Find out more here.