From a family of civil engineers, Louise Arrowsmith never imagined that a media degree would eventually lead her into a 20+ year construction career.
The Deputy Project Director for Taylor Woodrow has been part of the senior management team on several impressive projects including Tottenham Court Road Station and Crossrail, and will soon begin a two-year infrastructure scheme with Highways England to upgrade the M6 between junctions 2 at Coventry and 4 near Coleshill, into a smart motorway.
“My grandad actually worked on the first section of the M6 during his time with Preston City Council and my dad and uncle have been involved a number of motorway and bridge schemes across Lancashire and Manchester,” explains Louise. “They each wanted me to become a civil engineer, but I just didn’t see myself following in their footsteps.”
Forced to rethink a career in physiotherapy after fainting at the sight of blood, 18-year-old Louise chose media as it seemed a fashionable industry to work in.
Louise explains: “I panicked and plucked media out of the prospectus. At the time, I had no visibility of what was out there and I just wanted to take a ‘cool’ course. Knowing more about construction and the number of roles there are would have definitely made me think differently. I’d never heard of jobs such as project control, quantity surveying, planning and cost control until I actually started working in the industry.”
For Louise, it’s how the sector is currently marketed to the younger generation that creates these negative perceptions and fails to attract new talent into the industry. Louise explains: “Engineering isn’t perceived as an exciting industry unlike digital and media, for example. It’s a real shame because knowing that what you do will transform the local environment for the people who live and work there is such an amazing feeling. It was only a few weeks ago that I stood in the middle of Tottenham Court Road and saw how it had become a catalyst for change to the surrounding area. I just thought to myself, we did that!
“There’s a growing culture of impatience and instant gratification that construction and other technical sectors must overcome to attract more young people. Big infrastructure schemes can take decades to complete and we need to be promoting the huge opportunities and roles available in the sector to help draw in fresh talent.”
Despite graduating with a media degree, this hasn’t held Louise back from a successful career in construction. A temporary administration role with London Underground sparked her interest in project management and control, and led to increasing responsibilities and opportunities to develop. Since then, Louise then completed two further Master degrees including an MBA (Master of Business Administration) at Manchester Business School.
Louise continues: “I’ve worked for organisations that have allowed me to push myself and climb the ladder. These roles haven’t been without their challenges but having a team around you that supports you 100% has got me to where I am today. “There’s a real hunger from new people entering the industry who are so intellectual, determined and driven. Yet it’s retaining this talent, especially women, where the construction industry, in particular, really struggles. Pressures and long hours are part of the job and maintaining a good work/life balance whilst juggling family life can prove difficult.
“My advice for anyone who’s unsure what to do in life is to think outside of the box. I did a media degree because I wanted to be like everyone else and never thought I’d have a successful career in engineering or construction. No matter your background or gender, there will always be someone there to support you to achieve your full potential in whatever you set your mind to. I never imagined that I could progress to a senior project manager role without an engineering degree and getting to this stage of my career is one of the biggest highlights for me.”
“The great thing about this industry is the opportunities. Projects aren’t forever, giving people more confidence to move around, try new things and work in different teams. I’ve taken every opportunity that’s come my way, and I whilst I don’t know what the future holds, I know that I love what I do and enjoy coming to work every day.”
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