Alyson Cameron: Finding the right path back to building a bright future
Alyson Cameron discusses her route into construction and dispels the misconception that a career in the sector is for those struggling academically or that it isn’t for women.
From a very young age, building was a keen interest of mine. My dad was a joiner and I always enjoyed helping him, showing a keen curiosity about the world of construction.
By the time I left school the country was right in the middle of the recession, so a career within the built environment didn’t appear to be an option, as there were very few apprenticeship opportunities available at that time.
Instead, my guidance teacher put me in touch with a local authority to carry out an administration apprentice scheme. After completing this course, I gained a permanent position and stayed for eight years. It was an interesting role and I certainly learnt a lot and developed key skills, but I hankered after something else.
I took some time out to go travelling in Australia and when I came home, I made the decision to pursue a career within the construction industry.
I began working for a property maintenance company, carrying out an administration and finance role. After a year I saw a vacancy for a financial administrator within Kier Construction. Part of the job involved visiting construction sites. I knew that I would love that element and I wasn’t wrong.
Last year, I was successful in achieving a further development role at Kier – taking up a graduate apprentice position with the opportunity to study for a BSc Hons in Construction and the Built Environment at Robert Gordon University. Kier, along with other companies, has been heavily involved in designing this course in conjunction with the university and industry requirements, in a bid to help tackle the skills shortage in the construction industry and help each cohort to understand what to expect and learn from a career within the built environment.
I’m currently in my first year of the four-year course. At the beginning I felt like a fish out of water, being so new to site management and studying again, but both the team at Kier and the university have been really supportive and welcoming. I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge that comes from learning a completely new skill. Being based on-site really helps to understand the practicalities behind the theory. I attend on-campus days at university whilst completing the majority of the coursework through distance learning, making studying easily accessible and flexible.
During the week I’m on site, working at Queen Margaret Academy, a new £25m modern school in Ayr that provide 800 pupils. I work with the site management team and we have daily co-ordination meetings with subcontractors and managers to ensure progress remains on track. I also work with the health and safety and environmental teams to monitor the site, carry out assessments and perform safety checks. It’s varied and interesting, two days are never the same.
People are still surprised when I tell them that I’m studying to be a construction site manager. There is still the misconception that a career in construction is for those struggling academically, manual or that it isn’t for women.
Personally, I’m really keen to shift these common misconceptions. I’m living and breathing the job every day and know that this is far from the case. The reality is that the sector offers diverse, aspirational careers and the graduate programme is a fantastic route for young people to consider – learning and earning has huge perks. Kier has been particularly supportive in helping me develop my own career ambitions.
I am passionate about highlighting the opportunities available to young people and recently spoke to pupils at Queen Margaret Academy and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had sparked new interest about working in this fantastic industry. Later this month, I am speaking to local college students at a careers fair on construction. I think more needs to be done across the industry to engage with and inform young people about the many, varied routes into the sector and to ignite their passion on the world of construction too!
When I complete my graduate role, I would like to become a site manager and eventually, move into project management. I’ve never felt happier in my career. I’m so pleased that I’ve finally followed my dream to work in such a diverse and rewarding sector.
- Alyson Cameron is a graduate site manager with Kier Construction Scotland