The demands of a booming construction industry have led to an increasing skills shortage. With this in mind, Georgia Byrne of Anderselite spoke to Site Manager Holly Jensen, to find out how she views her successful career and what can be done to attract more women to the traditionally male-dominated built environment.
G: What is your current role and how long have you been doing it?
H: The last four years have been a time of fast career development, working as a contractor on construction projects throughout the UK. I started in early 2013 as a Junior Site Engineer and progressed rapidly to the level of Site Manager. I also undertake Project Manager contracts.
G: What first attracted you to the construction industry?
H: That’s a good question, which highlights the need to do more to showcase construction as a choice. Because the answer is, like many young women, the construction industry wasn’t initially on my radar as a career path. As it happens my husband is a Setting out Engineer and Site Manager and this is how I became interested in site management.
G: What is the average day like for a Site Manager?
H: Busy! As a Site Manager not only do I look after the workforce and workflow, it’s also my job to ensure that the site meets all the legal requirements from the Health and Safety Executive and the local authorities. As a snapshot, I document everything that happens on a daily basis; this may involve keeping a site diary, recording variations to work plans, actioning site instructions and taking project progress photos. I continually check and oversee the ongoing work, to ensure the smooth-running of the site. Different trades’ work areas and schedules need to be coordinated, so I ensure materials and labour are available as required.
G: What has been the key to your success?
H: Working on problems until they are solved. By that I mean never giving up. I will always find a solution and, if faced with a particularly unusual issue, I can refer to the many great resources available online such as the HSE or NHBC websites. I still keep my original course manuals, the Site Managers Safety Training Scheme manuals and my First Aid at Work manual to hand, if needed.
G: Are you surprised that only 1% of the workforces on the average construction site are women and why do you think that is?
H: Yes, I am surprised that only 1% are women. Previously jobs in construction may have been seen as needing physical strength but now, due to innovative equipment, many roles don’t require any physical labour whatsoever. Furthermore, there are careers which are largely intellectual rather than physical, such as those in quantity surveying, purchasing or management. Recently I have noticed a slightly higher ratio of women working in my region, so hopefully the 1% statistic is already changing.
G: What would you say to women who are thinking about the construction sector as a possible career?
H: Construction offers some fantastic opportunities and is generally very well remunerated. My pay rate has nearly tripled since I started out in construction management. Additionally, this field offers ample opportunity for advancement and promotion - I’ve gone from an Assistant Site Manager to a Project Manager is a relatively short time. I don’t plan to stop there, as I see this career taking me happily up to retirement. The highlight of my career so far was attaining a CSCS black manager’s card, which was a personal goal and gave me a terrific sense of accomplishment.
G: What has been your experience of being a female in male dominated industry?
H: In my experience, being a woman has given me an advantage. Part of my role involves acting a client liaison, as my employers find that I get better reactions from clients than my male counterparts. I don’t know if that it is directly linked to me being a woman, but I’ve been offered permanent employment with every company I’ve worked with on contract. Having women on the staff is increasingly recognised as important by the industry, as is evident in the equal opportunities statements required by considerate constructors schemes and similar programs.
As far as the practicalities are concerned, I always have access to a clean, accessible ladies-only toilet and it’s rather nice to have it to myself! On those sites where branded versions aren’t required, I’m happy to wear a bright pink, high-visibility jacket, to inject a bit of glamour into the day.
In terms of general acceptance, I've never had the problem of men being disrespectful, nor have I experienced sexism on-site. Discrimination is outdated and women are protected by law these days anyway, but as I’ve always had good, positive working relationships, this has never been an issue.
G: What is the best and worst part of working on a construction site?
H: The best part about construction work, for me, is the flexibility it offers to work on a freelance basis. I can take time off at the end of a project or continue directly onto another contract if I choose.
I work on a great variety of sites and if I wanted to travel widely there is opportunity for that, for example I’ve been involved in projects across London, Plymouth and Southampton.
The worst part about construction work is the troubleshooting involved. No amount of planning can eliminate every single problem that may arise once a project in underway. However, in the most difficult situations, the issue can be escalated to a contracts manager or regional director to resolve.
G: Email, phone or text – which is most important to you doing your job each day?
H: E-mail. It’s crucial in construction to document proposed work, completed work, variations, and queries. I e-mail while on site from my phone, take photos and send off queries or on-site inventory orders. Email offers convenience, speed and efficiency - which really oils the wheels.