James and Valentina during her work experience

Valentina’s work experience on the M4 Junction 3-12 motorway upgrade project was a huge success.

After meeting her at an employment event, I worked with VGC colleagues and partners on the project to arrange the week. It helped her see what she can expect, before committing to her new career.

The experience also showed how diverse and inclusive we are as an industry.

Women into Construction

VGC Group is a long-standing supporter of Women into Construction. We take part in their employment programmes, giving advice to women who are interested in starting a career within the construction industry.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, these programmes were put on pause. I was furloughed for three months, and when I returned in July, I began to support online instead of in person. I advised on career and education paths as well as giving my personal view on the industry.

Kimberley McGinty at Women into Construction event 4 Nov 2020
Kimberley at the Women into Construction event on 4 November 2020

On 4 November 2020, between lockdowns, Women into Construction held a face-to-face employment event at CONEL (College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London). They invited employers to meet the women registering on the programme, present on the industry and roles, and conduct a Q&A session. Afterwards we were each matched with one of the women to mentor for three weeks.

That is when I met Valentina.

She came along to hear from employers and gain a better insight on how to change her career. Valentina moved to the UK from Italy after her gender transition a number of years ago, and worked in security. She was keen to change her career and thought that construction would be a natural fit.

We discussed the qualifications she already held, and what her aspirations were. She had a green CSCS card and experience but wasn’t sure which roles might be suitable. I suggested a work experience week would allow her to see how a site works, and meet people involved in many of the roles that are needed.

Working with Balfour Beatty VINCI JV

M4 works compound aerial photo
Aerial view of the M4 works compound

After a discussion with James Andrews, VGC’s labour manager for the M4 smart motorway project, we decided this was the right fit for Valentina. The large site (run by Balfour Beatty VINCI joint venture) engages workers in a wide variety of roles. We knew that their skills team would support Valentina and open doors for her.

With project manager Glenn Boyd, we developed a programme to give Valentina exposure to various roles. She would gain a valuable understanding of a large construction project, and have the opportunity to ask those she shadowed for their advice, and learn about their education and career journeys.

Valentina’s work experience took place in December.

She visited the site for four days, supported throughout by James. Her experience included HSQE, planning, logistics, commercial, stores and site works. It included time with one of Balfour Beatty VINCI’s female engineers who explained her role on site, her thoughts on being a woman in construction, and her career journey so far.

Valentina gained a lot in a very short time, and thoroughly enjoyed her week.

She said: “It was a very interesting and stimulating experience. Talking to different people that work in various departments gave me a clearer picture of different roles and responsibilities. Taking into consideration my transferable skills, I am interested in starting my career in construction within a logistics team.”

Excellent feedback

As it was a first for all involved, we were delighted that the week was such a success. We received a lot of fantastic feedback from our client.

Project manager Glenn said: “It was great having her on work experience for the four days. She has left a lasting impression on everyone she spoke to. I hope she decides to join our great industry.”

Hannah Rossiter, logistics and digitisation manager, said: “Valentina should be seen as a role model for any women looking to do something different. It’s important to remember that anyone can change career at any point and construction is open to it.”

James Andrews
James Andrews, VGC labour manager

Our labour manager James Andrews deserves a big thank you for his mentoring Valentina on site, and for helping to put the week together.

This was also a first for James, but he quickly realised how important a programme like this is for those new to the industry.

“I have not provided work experience on any of the projects I look after before, so this was all new to me., I had the support from Kim and the senior project team members which resulted in a smooth-running four days. Valentina’s story inspired me to help out in any way I can to underrepresented groups, especially the LGBTQ+ community.

“This work experience has shown that the construction industry encourages anyone from any background to bring their whole selves to work without judgment. I am proud to have been a part of this, and extremely grateful to the Balfour Beatty VINCI M4 team for all their help in organising all the different departments for Valentina to experience, to get a well-rounded view of our great industry.”

A real insight

It is not easy for those wanting to start a new career in any industry. This is why these work experience placements are so important. It gives the individual a real insight into how a project is run and how it evolves. They can meet people on site and in the offices, and see how pivotal the different roles are to a project. We wanted to show Valentina that she is welcome here, and that she will be supported to do her job to the best of her ability.

We are now working with Valentina to source roles for her. I hope this is the first of many updates on her long and successful career in construction.

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