Most people who study architecture want to become an architect, but halfway through my second year I came to the conclusion that I didn’t. I approached design projects differently from my course mates – from a technical perspective rather than from a design concept. I started to think about how I could do something more technical and engineering focused, which led me to my first graduate role as a design engineer for a modular building company. Essentially, they sent over fitted-out (complete and furnished) hotel rooms and student accommodation from China, which would later be placed into buildings, saving time on the site.
It was a nice couple of years, but it was a small company and I wanted to gain a more varied experience of construction. I was looking for jobs online and came across the Laing O’Rourke graduate programme, which I was still eligible to apply for. What I really liked about Laing O’Rourke was that it was a large international organisation able to offer the variety and development opportunities that I was seeking, but it was still a family-owned business.
Unblocking paths: the job of a design manager
I completed the graduate programme recently and now work as a design coordinator. I do a similar role to a project manager, but focusing on the design work. My role is essentially to help resolve problems for the design team and to ‘unblock the path’ for them to do what is needed. A lot of this involves identifying the right person to speak to. The design team includes architects, engineers, consultants and often the client’s design team as well.
The design team holds meetings frequently – sometimes once a week, sometimes five times a day depending on the project – in which we all go through everything that is pertinent to the project and work through any issues. I’ll also spend my working day reviewing drawings that have been issued to check for errors. I occasionally review issues out on this site, too. I usually work from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm and am based in on-site offices.
I currently split my time between two projects: one new station for Crossrail and the other is a data centre. The day-to-day work is similar across projects, but the challenges they present are very different.
On my graduate programme, which lasted 32 months, I rotated around a number of projects in different areas to gain a variety of experience. Most of my time on the graduate programme was spent with my project teams, but I did get together with other graduates for training. This covered a range of technical and business strategy topics, as well as personal development skills such as dealing with pressure.
A highlight of my time on the graduate development programme was when I won Laing O’Rourke’s ‘graduate of the programme’ award. Out of 98 of us, only seven got put forward for it. We each had to suggest recommendations on how to reduce defects in projects and I focused mine around making a wholesale change to the way people approach quality. It was lovely to win, as I had based my set of recommendations on what I was genuinely interested in. I get to go to Australia, which is a great opportunity.
Our LGBTQ+ network hasn’t been hugely active until fairly recently. When one of our co-chairs stood down, I volunteered as I wasn’t sure if anybody else would do it! But now we’ve gone from having four people on a phone call to having 20+ people at a face-to- face meeting. Some of our initiatives include going on tours of Laing O’Rourke sites and having speakers give talks on best practice. We recently went on a pride march with the construction industry’s Building Equality initiative: Laing O’Rourke was one of 23 construction companies all marching under the same banner.
I think the more active our network is the better, as it can help LGBTQ+ graduates to see others out in the workplace. Stonewall’s research suggests that 62 per cent of LGBT+ graduates go back into the closet on starting work. For the first few months at Laing O’Rourke I wasn’t open myself because I didn’t know how being out would be received, but I’ve never faced any negativity. Among my project team, no one actually cares – which is how it should be. Laing O’Rourke is big on inclusion generally.
My advice to candidates is to make sure that your personality shines through in the interviews because everyone going for that job is likely to have had a similar academic experience. If you’re funny outside of work, put that across in a presentation. If you do a lot of charity work or are very sporty, make that part of the interview conversation. Remember that they are hiring you as a person.
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