In the first of the Construction Industry careers series on my blog, Mike Reader, Head of Strategic Pursuits at Mace will be sharing his path from student to present day.
The interesting thing about the construction industry is that following a linear career path isn’t the only way to make a difference and find a career you love. This is my story of how I came to join one of the most exciting and fastest growing companies in the industry, Mace, and why when all seems lost, there’s always another avenue to explore in our industry.
Recovering from failure
Fifteen years ago I opened my A-Level results to find I’d failed to get into University.
I needed at least three Cs to get onto my chosen accredited Civil Engineering degree course, but the paper in front of me showed three Ds, adding to the E I received for AS Level French a year earlier.
Through an extra foundation year to get onto an accredited degree, doubling-down on subjects I was good at in my first two years, and living in the library for my final year, I graduated from Loughborough with a 2.1 in Civil Engineering and joined Pick Everard as a Graduate Civil Engineer. And on joining Pick Everard, I was presented with the very structured and hierarchical career progression options most engineers face, working towards chartership and then spending the next thirty years working on engineering projects and climbing the corporate ranks.
At the time I was happy with this, after all, working as a Consultant Engineer is a pretty secure job. All the careers literature when I chose the subject talked about growing skills shortages, clear career paths and stability of the profession.
I was very fortunate to be given the a fantastic start to my career at Pick Everard, in at the deep end leading small engineering projects in the water sector whilst working as part of a team on larger sewage treatment projects; one of my projects even won an ACE award in my second year at the firm.
Ending my career as an engineer before it even started
In 2009, without much warning, the recession hit. All of a sudden my work dried up. Severn Trent Water, my principal client, had to cut their budgets, and all my projects were either cancelled or handed onto other engineers. My world suddenly looked less stable and I found myself twiddling my thumbs and wondering if the construction industry was all it was cracked up to be.
Thankfully, as Pick Everard is a very diverse business I was presented with two new options, two new career paths in the sector. The first was to join Pick Everard’s Structural Engineering team, take a step back and try my hand as a Structural Engineer. I hated Structural Engineering at University, and this role filled me with dread… The second was a temporary role as Programme Coordinator for a new government framework the firm had just won, called Buying Solutions. No one really knew what the role would entail, but as it kept me away from Structural Engineering, I took it.
Looking back now see this as the defining moment when my career suddenly started to pick up pace and I really came into my element, because rather than the admin and coordination role we thought the job would be, it turned out that to win work on this framework we had to bid for it, competing against the biggest consultant firms in the UK construction industry. “The little known Pick Everard” was how we were described by Building Magazine, compared to giants like Turner and Townsend, Mace, Jacobs and Lend Lease.
Through the next eight years I managed major public sector frameworks, and grew my skillset as a bid manager, building a bid team and then expanding to develop and grow teams in business development and marketing.
A new challenge
At the end of last year, after ten years at Pick Everard, I chose to take the leap and join a global business, Mace.
It was a big step for me to move away from a company I love, but I needed a new challenge and a chance to work within a bigger business, and I’m already learning a lot.
My role at Mace is the cryptically titled Head of Strategic Pursuits. In summary, my role is to ensure Mace’s consultancy business is positioned in the right place to secure large infrastructure and global property opportunities, with my focus initially on defence, central government and environmental sectors.
It’s a unique role in the business, sitting outside a specific delivery team and working across sectors and business units to identify, position for and secure major projects and programmes. It blends strategic thinking, creativity and problem solving, relationship building, networking and business development, and fast-paced bid work.
I don’t have a typical day, but as the I get settled into the role there will be days where I’m running a workshop with my Directors and supply chain partners from 9-5, some days where I spend the day reading and researching an opportunity, and others where the day I’m bouncing from meeting to call to catch up well into the evening.
An opportunity for everyone
So why am I telling you my story? When Jessica asked me to write this post to showcase a different role in the sector, I wanted to make sure I gave context to my thesis, that that there are roles for everyone in the Built Environment sector, no matter whether you’re a technically focused specialist or have a broader management skillset.
Nothing comes without immense amounts of hard work, crystal-clear focus on getting results and trust and support from your employer and family. But I truly believe there’s an opportunity for everyone in our industry.
The industry offers such broad choice of careers, but often many are hidden within the major routes of building, engineering, designing and surveying.
As the industry modernises, technology and digital will change roles in the industry and the importance and demand for different skillsets and qualities. AI, automation and robotics will all change how we work, and it is important careers and roles adapt to make the most of the opportunities the industry provides.
I hope my career to date proves to you that by being flexible and seizing the opportunities as they’re presented, the prospects for someone working in the built environment sector are unlimited.
You can follow Mike on twitter on @mike_reader and keep up with him on his blog at mikereader.me
If you would like any further information on Mike's career path or want to know how to get into engineering or get experience in a construction firm, please get in contact via the blog.