BIMBeing: The Journey #7
#7 – Size doesn’t matter…
Photo by Phillip Birmes from Pexels
Now before anybody feels weird I am of course talking about company size, nothing else. You have to be very careful with your words nowadays.
This post is primarily aimed at the following;
- Anybody thinking about joining the construction industry, especially graduates and apprentices
- Those who have recently joined the industry and may be considering a new role
- Those currently trying to attract fresh new talent to the industry
That’s quite a broad range of individuals. If you’re none of the above but you’re here anyway then read on, you’ve got nothing to lose.
As a graduate looking to secure my first ‘proper job’ I did what most people tend to do. With little thought but no lack of ambition I headed straight to the websites of the biggest companies the industry has to offer. Starchitects were my first stop, followed by the big-boy contractors and finally some very well known property developers – basically all of the household brand names. Like a magpie to a shiny object I swooped on every website I could find, straight to the careers section looking for anything along the lines of graduate or placement scheme. The problem with magpies is they are plentiful in number; the chance of getting that shiny prize is really quite slim.
I probably made in excess of 20-30 applications, each one being different. Some require a CV to be uploaded and some want a covering letter too whilst others require you to populate web-based forms instead. All in I spent a considerable amount of time on these applications, but truthfully I didn’t spend enough time thinking about what I really wanted to do. My CV demonstrated good grades throughout my educational history, plenty of previous work experience and clear literacy skills on the covering letters. I ran my CV past several individuals that specialise in that sort of thing and received good feedback on the format and content. Unfortunately, or so I thought, I didn’t manage to land any of these coveted graduate positions. I hadn’t done anything wrong, it just didn’t work out for me. You can’t take it personally because with such an incredibly high volume of applications for the well-known schemes it really is luck of the draw if your application even gets seen. The important thing is not to get disheartened at this stage and to start looking beyond the big names that you recognise. As it turns out, size doesn’t matter.
I eventually landed my first role with a design consultancy local to the University, a consultancy that was in a different design discipline to what I had even studied. They were a little known SME spread across a few regional offices and I was based in the smallest one. When I joined I was just the third team member in that office. We had a tiny room in a shared office facility on an industrial-type estate in the middle of pretty much nowhere. We bought office supplies from the nearest pound-stretcher and our ‘socials’ were a Friday morning bacon roll from the van around the corner. I was far away from a prescribed graduate scheme in a glamorous high-rise office that I’d envisaged just a few months before. However, in what is the most honest statement I’ve written to date, I wouldn’t change this experience for the world.
Words cannot describe just how grateful I really am for starting my journey in this way. I learnt more in those 2 years than I could have ever possibly imagined. It was certainly a baptism of fire as my old boss would say and there really were some sink or swim moments but I can genuinely say that I came out the other side of it as a different person altogether, professionally at least. Working closely with two incredibly talented and vastly experienced engineers in that small environment was like dropping a compressed sponge in a bowl of fresh water; I was rapidly absorbing knowledge, every minute of every day. The entire experience really accelerated my professional growth way beyond my years and it meant that moving forward I was imparting knowledge onto people far more senior than I was. It was only then that I started to truly appreciate just how much I had learnt in such a short space of time.
In the 2 years that I was there I probably had my hand in around 30 different projects in total which exposed me to a range of construction sectors: Commercial, Residential, Educational, Healthcare and Community projects were all thrown into the mix. Some of these I worked on continuously over the 2 years and others I may have only been involved with for a month or two but each was an entirely different lesson. Projects ranged in size from small office refurbishments to multi-million pound new residential complexes. Each type of project came with it’s own challenges and there really is, in my opinion, no better platform for learning.
There was not a rigid structure or plan to my time there, far from it. I didn’t have a checklist of ‘things I must achieve’ nor did I have to write any ‘today I learnt…’ nonsense. I was taken on to be part of the team, educated and supported ‘on the job’ by the people I was working with and rightfully expected to take some initiative, get involved and crack on with some work – this was not an academic, box-ticking exercise. I started with almost no responsibility, doing some of the donkey work (CAD especially) and attending meetings as a shadow. By the second year I was producing Stage 3 and Stage 4 designs, attending meetings and site inspections on my own, hosting meetings with suppliers and project teams and overseeing my very own projects. Whereas a larger company will tend to only take on the bigger jobs which roll on for 3 or more years, we had mix of smaller jobs that could be started and finished sometimes in as little as a few months. That meant I was able to get several ‘full project’ start to finish experiences as well as getting to work on some of the slow-burning larger schemes. With only 3 of us in the office it also allowed me to see a full range of project roles from site inspections to different aspects of design, the administration of contracts and management of fees; I was fortunate enough to be involved with it all. This is the sort of transparency that you don’t tend to get with the larger corporates. If you’re well organised, willing to put in the effort and thrive ‘in the deep end’ then this mix of roles and project types is the perfect learning environment.
I don’t doubt that the structured graduate schemes offered by the larger companies are any less useful. From the many programmes I looked into they seemed to offer a broad range of experiences, often moving you between various departments to increase your exposure to a multitude of company roles. My aim here is not to discredit these schemes, they’re tried and tested after all, it’s really to show that they are not the only option out there. Many smaller companies will not just be willing but will genuinely appreciate having a hard-working graduate in their team. Whereas the larger companies are typically there to meet their ‘quota’ for number of graduates churned through the corporate machine a smaller company wants to put you to work as quickly as possible. They want to train you up and start seeing some output which can actually be really beneficial; most of us learn by doing and that’s exactly what you can expect from a smaller business.
It may be less glamorous, you might not have the fancy social events every week and sit in a swanky office block in the city, but is that really what you’re there for? You’re there to learn, to break your way into the industry and build your knowledge as quickly as possible. I’m not suggesting for a second that you don’t look at the larger companies at all and I can’t promise that every experience will be the same as my own, just don’t forget about ‘the little guy’ because they can have a lot to offer as well.
Wherever you end up, just ensure that you make the very most of it. Your first few years in industry can really shape you as a professional and like me you could end up in an entirely different line of work, in a role you didn’t previously know existed. Start your journey with enthusiasm for the work your doing and an open mind on which job role you’re aiming for, it might just set you on the path to a really successful career.
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