Ellie Wilkins joined Thakeham 18 months ago as a Trainee Site Manager. New to a male dominated industry – Ellie had her preconceptions of what a career in construction may be like and the challenges it may bring. This International Women’s Day, she talks to us about overcoming those challenges, some pleasant surprises along the way and what the sector can do to encourage more women into the industry.
Finding my feet
I began my career as a Health and Safety officer in the manufacturing world – I enjoyed aspects of the job but knew I hadn’t found a lifelong career. A former colleague then moved to Thakeham and suggested I put myself forward for the training programme Thakeham offered. Considering the attributes needed to succeed as a Site Manager, I knew that my experience in Project Management would be invaluable.
I did have misconceptions about the industry before I became a part of it. I knew I would be in the minority being a female and feared I may face challenges my male counterparts wouldn’t, but this only made me more determined to succeed. After training for 18 months, I can say that my initial concerns were unnecessary and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the welcoming nature of the sector and the encouragement I’ve received from Thakeham while learning. I don’t experience any prejudice or inequality at work; my hunger to learn has stood me in good stead and an unwavering belief that I can achieve exactly what I put my mind to.
Courage of my Convictions
I have been surprised by the level of responsibility entrusted to me at a relatively junior level, at times it’s been hard and I’ve had to learn quickly – but it’s been hugely beneficial for my self-confidence. Throughout my training I’ve also been encouraged to voice my ideas and it’s been so rewarding to see some implemented on site. In line with Thakeham’s sustainability goals, I suggested that our site welfare cabins harvest rainwater and as a result our on-site WCs no longer run off the mains and function on rainwater alone.
It’s achievements like this one that are the reason I feel I wouldn’t be suited to an office job, I love to see something tangible produced as a result of my hard work. I realise that I’m lucky to work for an employer who listens to ideas from a junior level and ensures its working environment is one in which its staff, regardless of gender, feel nurtured and supported; but I do think attitudes are changing on a wider scale too.
Encouraging more women into Construction
There are definitely things the industry can do to encourage women to consider a career in Construction. Times are changing, but when I was at school, if university wasn’t the obvious next step, men were pushed towards the trades; plumbing, carpentry etc and women towards hairdressing and beauty. It’s this that needs to change; education of what jobs are available in construction needs to start at this level, or perhaps even younger, if we’re to address the vast imbalance of male to female.
A career in Construction
This training programme with Thakeham has given me a lot more than just practical onsite experience. The self-study element of the 11 modules I take, along with presenting to senior management every few months, has really built my confidence and confirmed that this is the industry I want to be in. I feel motivated and driven to work hard, and know that a Site Manager role is just around the corner.