Vicky Gray

Across the globe, 2018 is being dubbed the ‘year of the woman’ following a series of high profile headlines and social media campaigns. To celebrate the role women are playing in making Barratt North Scotland the success it is today, assistant site manager, Vicky Gray, and apprentice joiner, Jemma Sykes, have shared their experiences of building careers in construction.

Glasgow-born Vicky Gray joined Barratt North Scotland in 2015 as a graduate trainee after completing an honours degree in Architectural Technology at Robert Gordon University. After successfully completing the housebuilder’s Accelerated Construction Graduate Scheme, she was promoted to assistant site manager in 2016, and is now working towards becoming a fully-fledged site manager running her own projects and her own team.

Vicky (24) first became inspired to pursue a career in construction when she completed some voluntary work in India. She supported a local community to build an orphanage by assisting with basic hands-on construction. Speaking of her experience, she said: “Seeing the excitement on the children’s faces after we transformed derelict land into somewhere they could truly call home was phenomenal – a memory I will treasure forever.”

Vicky credits the support she received both as a student and as a trainee, for the success she has achieved to date. Her university lecturer pointed her in the direction of the Accelerated Construction Graduate Scheme and put her in touch with a contact at Barratt Homes who supported Vicky through the application process. As a trainee, Barratt North Scotland team provided Vicky with “the greatest support she could ask for”, giving her access to training courses, UK site visits and regular reviews with the construction manager throughout.

“I am confident that I have taken the first steps into a long and lucrative career, and I hope I can inspire other women to take those steps too.”

Vicky Gray

Now that she has completed her training, Vicky thrives on the variety her role provides, making every day a new opportunity to learn, tackle interesting new challenges and meet new people. Describing her role, she said: “On a daily basis I deal with a variety of different tasks, from coordinating on site tradesmen, completing health and safety documentation, and ensuring the build programme is on schedule and up-to-date, to liaising with suppliers and subcontractors, ordering materials and following up with aftercare for new homeowners.

“There is definitely no such thing as a typical day onsite, especially at Westburn Gardens where I’m currently based. This is a large and complex site featuring new build homes, multi-storey apartments, underground car parking, refurbished listed buildings and historic monuments. I’ve worked on this project for around a year and a half now and it has become an excellent learning experience because of the variety it entails.”

“Old fashioned perceptions are unhelpful and have no place.”

Jemma Sykes

As a woman working in a sector traditionally perceived to be a male-dominated sector, Vicky has clear views about how stereotypes and misinformed perceptions can be addressed. Also, while she does accept that the construction workforce is still predominantly male, she doesn’t believe that this should be seen as a barrier for women seeking employment in this field.

Speaking of her experience, she said: “The construction world is still made up predominantly of men, but my greatest barrier was coming into this role without a trade background. I was concerned that the tradespeople on site would not take me seriously, but I was quickly proven wrong – everyone has treated me positively and respectfully and I very much feel part of the team.

“There are many beliefs that construction is not for women because of the unsociable hours, physical work and so on, but this is all about dated attitudes and ill-informed perception. This is in fact the greatest barrier. By working hard to encourage more women into the sector, house builders can help to break down this barrier by improving awareness of the opportunities on offer. I am confident that I have taken the first steps into a long and lucrative career, and I hope I can inspire other women to take those steps too.”

Jemma Sykes

Jemma (26) has followed a different route into construction, opting to learn a trade rather than enter as a graduate manager. Originally from Salford, she is now in her second year as an apprentice joiner with Barratt North Scotland. As an older apprentice, Jemma was inspired to pursue joinery by her experience of building her own home as well her interest in creating bespoke furniture.

Speaking of her role, she said: “I like being hands on and active, and I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing the finished result of my efforts in the final stages of a project. My experience so far has given me the practical and theoretical skills as well as the confidence to tackle my own projects too.

“A typical day for me starts at 7.30am. I unload my tools and take them to where I am working – which is normally up scaffolding – then collecting any materials I might need for the job. At the moment we are framing external walls ready for cladding to be fixed to them. We normally stop for a break at around 9.30, then for lunch at 12.30, before finishing on site at 4.30pm.”

Jemma believes that perceptions surrounding the physical capabilities of women need to be addressed if the industry is to inspire future generations of tradeswomen. She has never doubted her ability to do her job to the highest standard and aspires for future development in her career.

She explained: “By sharing experiences like my own, we can raise the profile of the fact that women are already doing these jobs successfully and that employers like Barratt North Scotland fully recognise the contribution women can make to the construction industry.

“Old fashioned perceptions are unhelpful and have no place – whether it’s an opinion shared by a family member, a school teacher or a colleague. Construction offers so many career paths, especially now as skills are in high demand. I’m really proud to be learning such a valued craft and I hope to inspire other women to consider a trade as a fulfilling career choice.”

Catch up with the rest of Scottish Construction Now’s International Women’s Day feature here.