Elaine Perratt shares her 33-year journey from office temp to assistant health and safety manager at Cruden Buildings & Renewals Ltd.
When I was at school, I wasn’t academic; the thought of going to university had never crossed my mind. I applied for a nursery nursing course and was accepted, so I was looking forward to a leisurely summer before starting the course in September.
My mum, however, had other ideas! She took me job-hunting, and we found a vacancy on what was then known as a YTS scheme, for an office junior with housebuilder and construction company, Cruden Buildings & Renewals Ltd. I thought it would be a perfect way to get some experience and money over the summer, and it turned out that I loved working in an office.
When September approached, I told Cruden that although I was enjoying my job, I was due to start my college course, and my position with them was only temporary.
Cruden, as an employer, prides itself on finding a pathway to a career for all of their staff. They offered me a full-time role as an office junior where I would have the opportunity to progress and develop in the company. I jumped at the chance, and what teenager wouldn’t welcome the full time salary?
A dizzy 33 years later, I am still with Cruden. Over the years I have worked in many roles and departments, including accounts and estimating, working with suppliers and helping with tenders. Then, a position came up as an administration manager in the health and safety department, where I initially typed up reports that the health and safety manager was carrying out on site. My manager then suggested it would be easier if I came out on site with him, so I could see what he did behind the scenes.
“Statistics show that at a typical health and safety seminar or event, in a room full of 100 people, only five will be women.”
Once out on site, my manager could see how interested I was in what he was doing, and suggested I sit my NEBOSH general certificate, which is a globally recognised health and safety qualification. I attended a 16-week course on day release at Motherwell College, which Cruden paid for. At the end of the course I sat two exams and successfully gained my qualification.
It was after this that my manager suggested I consider a degree in health and safety. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined getting a degree, but I had really enjoyed my NEBOSH general certificate, so I was delighted to give it a try. My managing director was extremely supportive, explaining that Cruden would help me in any way they could, including giving me time off for studying. My diploma also allowed me to fast track straight into second year of the course.
I attended university for one day a week. At the same time, I was promoted to health and safety assistant, a role which involved carrying out site inspections, checking signage and carrying out risk assessments. I really enjoyed the combination of classroom learning and on-site experience. After three years, I gained my BSc in Occupational Safety and Health, which was a very proud moment.
Even after all these years, I still love working in construction. My favourite part of my job is knowing that I’m getting everyone home safely. It’s good to get people to look at the bigger picture – cutting corners might save someone ten minutes, but an injury could keep them off work for weeks, or even months.
Statistics show that at a typical health and safety seminar or event, in a room full of 100 people, only five will be women. I’ve been lucky that I’ve never experienced any problems with being a woman in construction. Part of that is down to the culture within Cruden – from the top down, everyone supports each other. We are like a big family. Cruden already has an all-female purchasing department, which is quite rare within the construction industry.
There is still work to be done in addressing the sometimes negative perception of the industry. For example, we often visit primary schools to talk about the safety aspect of construction sites, but I feel that more could be done to encourage children into careers in construction at the same time.
I would encourage anyone, male or female, who is considering a career in construction to go for it. My experience has shown that in this industry, even if you don’t start out with qualifications, with the right attitude and a supportive employer you can still have a long-lasting, fulfilling and varied career.
Catch up with the rest of Scottish Construction Now’s International Women’s Day feature here.