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What made you want to become an Assistant Commercial Manager?

I completed a work experience placement with Skanska back in 2012 whilst I was in Sixth Form, and it was there that I was first exposed to Quantity Surveyors and the role they carry out in the industry. I initially wanted to be an Architect but ended the placement with an interest in Quantity Surveying instead. Honestly, I was drawn to the fact that the Quantity Surveyors were present for the whole lifecycle of the construction build, getting to witness and be involved in managing it from inception, through to construction and even afterwards during Final Accounts. 

What route did you take to get to where you are now?

For A-levels I studied Maths, Physics, Art, and Geography – these were mainly aligned towards me studying Architecture as that was my initial plan. However, this plan changed, and I was fortunate that my A-level subjects were varied enough for me to have flexibility of options. I went on to study Quantity Surveying & Commercial Management at Coventry University, completing a Summer and an Industrial placement in the industry while I was there. I then applied for a Graduate Scheme with Balfour Beatty at the start of my final year at University which I was fortunate enough to get, which is where my post-graduate career started. I have recently started a new role at Lendlease as an Assistant Commercial Manager, which is similar in most ways to Quantity Surveying and so far I am really enjoying it.

How does your work affect our lives/the world around us?

Working in the construction industry, our work shapes the very nature in which communities exist. The built environment is a vital part of the human experience, and also a key sector in most countries’ economies. Although some may not like to admit it, money and profits is the main driving force of this industry, so I see myself as a key part of making sure the businesses that prop up this industry can continue to trade profitably and stay afloat. A University lecturer of mine once said “You won’t see a Construction charity as projects are too expensive!” and that’s something that has always stuck with me. My role safeguards and ensures the profitability of any given construction project, thus ensuring the profitability of my company as a whole, which feeds into the continued expansion and development of the built environments we all live, work and play in.

The Reality: what does your role actually involve?

My job is very analytical, and a lot of time is spent reviewing, interpreting and negotiating various pieces of information, both financial and contractual. One of the great things about commercial roles – and construction roles in general – is they continually change throughout the lifecycle of a project so you’re never too stagnant. 

"Being in a commercial role requires you to stick to your principles and have a strong understanding of what is and isn’t required of your company as per your executed contracts, and the law."

At the moment, my typical day is getting into the office around 8:15am, coffee(!!), then as I am currently working on a PCSA – so the project is not live on-site yet – I am focusing on procurement. This means I spend most days sending out tenders to suppliers and subcontractors to provide a price to carry out a package works, analysing the costs returned, having various back and forth discussions with the subcontractors to clear up any queries and make tweaks to their submissions if required, and having even more internal discussions to ensure we have scoped the works correctly and bought everything required. In summary, my days are filled with a whole lot of collaboration!! 
 

Often, getting this across to subcontractors can be difficult and people can become irate or sensitive, so this can be a challenge. However, challenges like this are inevitable, so having conviction in your position and getting this across in an accurate and reasonable manner helps ease the stress of these types of conversations.

Internally within my project team I work closely with Project Managers, Construction Managers, Planners, Engineers, Design Managers and Document Controllers. Externally, the stakeholders I am most involved with are other commercial roles such as Estimators, Quantity Surveyors and/or Commercial managers, working for either the client or one of our subcontractors/suppliers. 

White Brick Wall
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Finding a good community within other women in the industry has really provided me with a support network.”

Hey Ladies, my name is Keziah Acquaye and I'm a 26 year old Assistant Commercial Manager at Lendlease Europe.

 

I’ve been working in the industry just over 4 years post-graduation, but I also completed multiple work placements during my time at University.

"I like that day to day, week to week, and month to month, the work that I carry out continues to change and evolve in line with the changing project stages. Being able to see the physical embodiment of your work being built as the project progresses and experience it on site is always extremely rewarding! As a sociable personal in general, I also really enjoy the collaborative aspects gained from working with a wide range of professionals."

 

How do people react when you tell them your job role?

Honestly, confusion! I think most people are unaware that Quantity Surveyors or Commercial Managers exist. The easy route I take is to say, “It’s like an Accountant for a construction project” – not exactly accurate but it does the trick! For people that do know about the role, they often find the fact that it’s my job both interesting and impressive.

What is it like to be a woman working in your area or profession?

Being a woman – combined with being young and being Black – in this industry is definitely a difficult thing to navigate. Money is a sensitive subject in the best of times, so high pressure situations can lead to rather nasty sexist tendencies coming to the surface. I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself in ways I would have cowered from previously, and try to remind myself I deserve to take up space in the roles I’ve been placed in. Construction is unlike any other industry and so it can be hard to benchmark your treatment at times, so finding a good community within other women in the industry has really provided me with a support network. It’s also helped us ensure we’re being respected in terms of promotions and appraisals relative to our peers. Even in the short time I’ve worked in the industry there definitely has been improvement, and I find more men that are more intentional in their attitudes towards equality and equity in the workplace which is great! But there is most certainly still work to be done. 

What advice would you give a young woman thinking about a career in your role? 

I would say try before you buy! The more experience you can get before committing yourself to a role in the industry, the better, as the construction industry has plenty of nuances and complexities that other industries do not. A lot of companies are willing to offer work experience placements when contacted, so reach out to as many as possible.

 

Quantity Surveying and/or Commercial Management is quite niche so it’s important to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into, but once you get a feel for it, I’m sure you’ll fly! Also (unfortunately) this industry still has a connection-based, “Old Boys Club” approach in some areas or companies, so the more connections you can make early in your career the better (feel free to contact me as your Connection Number 1!) 

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Keziah Acquaye

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