Hayley Newman, sustainability management trainee at Willmott Dixon Interiors, talks about why her journey into construction so far has inspired her to help others…
My career dreams growing up always reflected my passion for making a positive impact – teacher, vet, environmental activist – but construction didn’t come into the picture until a little later…
Throughout school, University was championed as the best route after sixth-form so in 2011 I went off to study Geography at the University of Reading. I loved my time at university but afterwards found myself lacking career direction, fulfilling the common role of unemployed graduate and consequently going on to spend three years working in a role that I knew wouldn’t fulfil me long-term.
That all changed when I applied for a position as a sustainability management trainee at Willmott Dixon Interiors. I must admit, I had no idea what to expect – despite school and university offering abundant careers events and advice, I had never once considered that construction could offer a career for me – how wrong I was!
Making a Difference
Despite my initial uncertainty about construction, I decided to apply for the position after reading about the company’s commitment to sustainability and leaving a positive impact through its work. I went on to start at Willmott Dixon Interiors in September 2017 – the more I got stuck into the work and learnt about the business, the more I loved the role I had come into!
My first year was spent being part of the social value team and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. I was blown away by how much a construction company could make a difference to communities and the genuine commitment of everyone in the business towards Willmott Dixon’s impressive target to enhance the live chances of 10,000 young people by 2020.
One month in, I had my first experience helping a group of unemployed young people from difficult backgrounds with CVs, mock interviews and careers advice at a course run by Interiors with the Construction Youth Trust. As an anxious public speaker with little previous experience, I turned down the offer to run a session but enjoyed supporting the group. Witnessing the improvement in the individuals by the end made me realise the potential that sharing my experience, knowledge and support had to change the direction of someone’s life.Above: Hayley with local school children
Ambassadors for Construction
Excited to be a part of improving more lives, I signed up to become a STEM/construction ambassador. In my opinion there are two primary responsibilities of an ambassador; firstly to inspire people to consider a career in construction and secondly to help those who face barriers to overcome these and build skills to get into employment.
During my year as a construction ambassador I spent over 200 hours working with and organising events to support over 500 young people. I learnt so much over this time about the challenges facing young people trying to get into employment and was lucky enough to work with inspiring individuals who were going through challenges such as homelessness, mental health and gang-involvement yet remained positive and motivated in the face of their difficulties.
In December 2017, I was asked to organise and run a three-day residential course for 20 young adults who were unemployed for a variety of reasons and lacked confidence, skills and experience. Only three months into my new position, I was still a nervous speaker and felt daunted by the prospect but embraced taking on the challenge.
At the end of the three days, the improvements in the individuals were clear to see and most now had clear goals for building their careers. Many went on to complete work experience and even secure employment – I couldn’t have been more proud!Above: Hayley joins the panel at a careers event
Mentoring and supporting the young people for the three days not only helped drastically improve the teamwork, career plans and confidence of the attendees but also massively improved my own skills; I had successfully resolved the many curve balls which came from organising such a course, acted as a leader figure for the young people and our volunteers and even challenged my fear of public speaking to deliver a ‘Routes into Construction’ presentation.
Everyone’s role as ambassadors
With the shortage of new entrants in the construction industry, it has never been more important to engage with young people and dispel negative perceptions of careers in construction. I believe that as a business it is crucial to keep being the inspiring role models, making a difference to lives and supporting as many people as possible to join our industry
As I reflect on the first year of my management trainee programme, I feel like I have already been given so much support and opportunity to develop as a leader in the industry, pushing myself out of my comfort zone throughout. I have benefited from working with diverse teams of people across the business, been supported to develop and implement my own ideas and increasingly learnt the importance of communication as a leader.
Recently, I was immensely proud to receive the 2018 ‘STEM Ambassador of the Year’ award at the Willmott Dixon Trainee of the Year Awards. Having discovered for myself how much more there is to the exciting world of construction, I am passionate to keep helping others realise their potential and discover the perfect career for them in this exciting, fast-paced and diverse industry. Construction allows you to change places for the better, impact people for the better and consistently play a part in projects to be proud of and I look forward to continuing this on my path to becoming a Sustainability Manager with Willmott Dixon Interiors.