With City Building making great strides in attracting women into the industry and helping them to progress, SCN catches up with four of its brightest employees who are each taking their opportunities to blaze their own trail in the sector.
Historically, craft trades have been male-dominated but Glasgow construction firm City Building has made strong progress in attracting more women as part of plans to improve diversity across the business.
The company employs 20% of all female craft apprentices in Scotland and 55% of its senior management are women.
Among the success stories is contracts manager Natalie McPherson, 34, who joined City Building over 16 years ago as an apprentice painter and decorator. Natalie, who now manages multiple projects on behalf of client Glasgow City Council, entered the industry after undertaking a six-week City Building ‘taster’ course at school.
Her potential was recognised during the course and she was encouraged to apply for an apprenticeship. “I loved painting and decorating,” she said. “I had always been hands on, so construction was the ideal job for me.”
After completing her apprenticeship Natalie quickly moved into management, becoming an operations manager in charge of high profile projects including the £2.5 million refurbishment of Lorne Street Primary School in Govan, a Category B listed building. “It was great because it involved liaising with Historic Scotland and working closely with an architect,” Natalie said.
Also making her mark in management at City Building is Siobhan Logue, 26. Site manager Siobhan started out as an apprentice plumber in September 2008. “I’m not going to lie,” she said, “the reason I chose to go into plumbing was that it was the highest paid trade.”
Siobhan joined City Building in September 2008 after completing a six-month National Certificate course as a school leaver. After attaining tradesperson status four years later she was earning a good salary but took a pay cut to become a trainee manager. “I wanted to work my way up and I knew I had the experience to build good relationships and make them work,” she said.
Now managing the £2m refurbishment of Cuthbertson Street Primary School she is relishing the challenges of being a manager. “It can be difficult as there are 400 pupils at Cuthbertson Street and we have to work round that, but I’ve got a great team. I do the office work, which is all the planning and management, and the guys on the job respect that.”
Second year apprentice Phoebe Ali, 18, also chose the plumbing route. Currently working in the gas section of City Building, she became interested in plumbing after receiving support from a female technical studies teacher to apply for an apprenticeship through the Glasgow Guarantee scheme. The £50m programme is a legacy of the Commonwealth Games and assists young people into employment or training.
Phoebe said: “I knew from the age of 14 that I wanted to work in the construction industry. My uncle in England had his own construction firm and I can remember picking up his tools and playing with them when I was little. It also offered secure employment without going to university, which I didn’t want to do.”
The teenager, who was last year named Glasgow Guarantee Apprentice of the Year, is currently installing boilers in housing association properties and was previously part of a team fitting new kitchens and bathrooms.
She also regularly attends to school events to promote the construction industry to young women – including a session at her own alma mater, Rosshall Academy.
“Girls are put off by not having experience, and working with so many guys can be a bit intimidating but it is mind over matter,” she said. “If you don’t want to be behind a desk, it is a great career option.”
Fourth year apprentice painter and decorator Lisa Murphy is another City Building award-winner. As well as being named Trades House Apprentice of the Year in 2015 she won the Scottish heat of the UK-wide Johnstone’s Young Painter of the Year in 2016 before going on to take first place nationally in 2017.
Lisa, 21, was inspired to take up painting and decorating after completing an interior design project as part of her Higher Art course. She also says her late grandfather was an influence
“I didn’t want to go down the university route as I preferred working with my hands. Having a grandfather, who was a painter and decorator, probably influenced me too. He helped me a lot in the first year of my apprenticeship.”
The project Lisa enjoyed most was helping to build the set of the Hello My Name is Paul Smith exhibition in 2016 at The Lighthouse in Glasgow. “It was really detailed work – not like painting a house,” she explained.
“I love my job but now that I’ve been on building sites, I see my future as being in construction management. I’d like to do a Higher National Certificate and move up through the company doing stuff that I enjoy.”
Natalie added: “Sometimes as a woman on the job you need to prove yourself, but when the guys see you can do the job you gain their respect. I’d say to any other women considering construction to give it a try. I definitely wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Catch up with the rest of Scottish Construction Now’s International Women’s Day feature here.