Can you explain your current role and responsibilities?
I am a Package Manager for surface works in one of the sites of the Thames Tideway Tunnel. It is my responsibility to co-ordinate the works I take care of in all the different areas: consents, design, quality, health and safety. I have to speak to the relevant people to gain all the permissions for the delivery of the works. With the support of the consents team I contact the different stakeholders affected by the works such as city councils and asset owners like water, power, telecom or gas companies. It is also my responsibility to contact specialist contractors doing the works and to coordinate with existing works that are happening in parallel. I take care of the planning certifications programme as the working area is really tight and strict so you have to plan ahead. We assist the engineering team to explain to the planners all the interfaces, how to match with other works and to plan resources, people, materials, consents and documentation. I’m in constant contact with the different management teams for logistics, health and safety, quality, review and approval. There is a whole process for quality and documentation. When the work has been completed then it needs to get certified - quality is important in these projects and good attention to detail is essential so nothing is missed. A delay in construction costs a lot of money and it can not only impact our work but other works, present and future, happening within the same area. In some projects in the core of London, there are plenty of stakeholders and interfaces so it’s important to have a stakeholder management group.
I’m also involved with checking the design drawings. It’s vital the design coordination is in line with the delivery of construction so it doesn’t impact other works and it has to be within utility specifications when applicable. I’m not a designer but I need to check that there are no clashes, that the design makes sense and fits the needs for delivery. I have been working on reinforced concrete structures works for more than 5 years and as well taking care of the utilities works on site.
So, how did you land your first job? Is it relevant to the job you are doing now?
After University, I started to work in a concrete laboratory as a lab technician researching recycled concrete – this was in Valencia, Spain. That gave me a good understanding of concrete. After a while I realised I didn’t really like working in a lab, however, the knowledge gained there has been very useful. My next role was an internship in a design company. I think it’s really important to try different things to learn what you like and don’t like. I did 2 internships in the same company and it was ok but I wasn’t passionate. Then I went to an Asset Management internship relating to infrastructure assets in Madrid. It gave me an understanding of cost control and the economics of a project. Sadly, the company had to make redundancies and I left the company but I did like the role. An opportunity then presented itself in construction delivery in the UK and I have been doing it for 5 years. All my knowledge gained from concrete, asset management and even the design company was useful in that role as I was taking care of reinforced concrete structures. Around 3 years ago, I became a package manager. A package manager is like a project manager but with a smaller scope taking care of one portion of the works of an specific project. I have a great team and I’ve also had the opportunity to progress quickly as the management saw potential in me. I have gained good experience in this role as I’ve learnt how to manage and coordinate with different teams.
How important are your qualifications vs your hands-on experience in your role?
You need qualifications to get into the industry and for any promotion – it’s essential. However, what keeps you in work is the experience. If you don’t have much knowledge you need to sort it out!
I studied Civil Engineering - Structural and gained a Meng and BSC degree from the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain. I then did a Masters in International Leadership for Civil Engineers at the Rafael Pino Foundation. The masters focussed on soft skills such as negotiation and conflict management. The reason I decided to do a masters was that I thought it was a good compliment to engineering as it’s vital to work well with other people. In Spain, there’s no opportunity to learn people management skills in an engineering degree. Social skills are essential in this role - the project I’m currently working on is massive and I work with hundreds of people. Essentially, people leave their jobs because of their management or the team, it’s not necessarily about the money, so good communication is key.
Another thing to note is that it’s a big industry but a small workforce so you see the same faces again as people move to current projects. Good work connections definitely help as companies want their teams to get on. In my role, I meet a whole range of people from stakeholders, clients, asset managers and contractors. It’s important to have relevant knowledge but it’s essential to get on with your colleagues as it’s not an isolated environment.
Any advice for jobseekers looking to get into your area of expertise?
First, get the qualifications! After a degree, it’s important to get further qualifications such as the SMSTS (Site Management Safety Training Scheme) or the SSSTS (Site supervision safety training scheme). It’s an essential component of safety on construction sites and it takes a few days training. These certificates give you the advantage over another applicant as the company then won’t waste time or money on getting you trained. Companies don’t want any potential delays to their projects so it’s definitely worth investing in these certificates.