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Year out Placements: Quantity Surveying & Commercial Management

by Samantha Makuwatsine, BSc Hons Quantity Surveying & Commercial Management student. Birmingham, UK.

Hey Ladies, my name is Samantha and I’ve been working as a commercial year out student since August 2021 at one of the UK’s leading Construction & Regeneration Groups. Although I am in the last months of my placement, I still have so much to learn – one thing about construction is that there’s always something to learn!

Before starting my placement, I had a few expectations of what my experience would be:

1. Gain insight into career possibilities within the industry and where I would want to take my own career.

2. Utilise and develop what I have been learning at University, transferring and developing my skills in a real-life role.

3. Gain insight into the realistic day to day life of a quantity surveyor, and therefore set realistic expectations of life after University.

4. Work with a range of experts within the industry, learning what they do on a day to day and how different roles contribute to bringing projects from concept to handover.

Why did I even choose Quantity Surveying & Commercial Management?

From Young, I was convinced that I would grow up and work in the medical field like most of the woman around me in my family, at church and in the Zimbabwean community. A lot of the women (and men) work in the medical field as nurses, midwives, doctors, physiotherapists and more. These jobs are seen as dependable and sustainable, whilst other artistic/creative jobs in different sectors are looked down upon. In Sixth form I attended a careers fair where a black woman spoke about her career in the construction industry, and this opened my eyes to available career opportunities for women that I didn’t know about or even consider. We don’t have to be limited or restricted to certain industries or careers because of our race and gender! After my own research and networking, I picked quantity surveying as my discipline. Commercial management opens up my opportunities and allows me to take my career further than surveying.

So, my placement was split into three phases: I spent 5 months in the preconstruction department, working with estimators learning what happens before a project starts onsite. I spent 2 months rotating between 8 different departments within the business, spending a minimum of a week in each (which luckily covers the 4th expectation mentioned above!). For the last 5 months of my placement I have been working on site in Birmingham.

During my placement I have learned so much about the industry, especially how collaborative it is between the Architects, estimators, site management team, supply chain, quantity surveyors, design managers and the list goes on! Each discipline across the industry must come together and work effectively to achieve project success.

Working on site has allowed me to complete various tasks that have contributed to a live project which has been super exciting. Feeling like your work matters (especially as a placement student) is the best feeling!

I have been given my own small packages to manage. Managing a package involves measuring works, liaising with subcontractors, sending out enquiries, meeting with subcontractors, compiling orders and sending out contract documents. I also assist the senior QS’s with some day-to-day tasks. I have also had the opportunity to visit many different construction sites!

Why work experience opportunities like this are important:

Work experience opportunities like this allow you to really get an insight into the role you are preparing for or aspiring to. You learn about what is expected from you and how you can progress in your role. It also helps you to decide on the type of company you want to work for after your final year. Placement experiences positively support your grad job applications in this turbulent job market!

Personally, my work experience has really prepared me for life after Uni, which can be a massive shock to graduates, as well as learning how to conduct yourself in a work environment. You gain key career skills such as time management and organization, being able to prioritize tasks and communication as well as finance management, budgeting and many more.

Although my experience has been worthwhile, it has also had its downs. As a young Black Woman and placement student, there have been times where I have not felt valued or represented. Everywhere I went, whether it be on site or in an office, there wasn’t anyone who looked like me. Additionally, there are no POC (especially women of color) in senior positions. This was disappointing as many companies have pledged to be more active in hiring/promoting POC after the BLM movement in 2020, but without real action, it’s all just performative activism. This just highlights the work we must do to tackle the stigma in the construction industry in order to encourage more women and people of color to join – but that’s another conversation.

As a placement student there have been times where I have gone without work or tasks to complete which can be mentally draining - staff were too overwhelmed with their own work to delegate tasks or spend time going through things. If you are thinking of doing a year out, my advice would be to apply for smaller companies where they have more time to spend one-on-one time working and teaching you, or where you directly shadow and learn from a senior person in your chosen discipline for the duration of your placement.

My advice for any young women wanting to pursue a career within the commercial side of the industry?

DO IT!! Is it easy? Definitely not, can you do it? Absolutely! We need to continue breaking down barriers and smashing glass ceilings in these male dominated industries. Talk to other women in the industry and find out what kind of opportunities are out there. Be confident and use your voice, don’t make yourself small because it doesn’t serve anyone and does a disservice to you and your talent. Speak up and know your worth both in life and at work – something I’m working on, but I’ll get there and so will you!

Instagram: samanthatapiwa

LinkedIn: Samantha Makuwatsine

Check out our HERStories Series to be inspired by some Young Women working across many roles in the industry:

Check out our website below to find out What construction is, the stages of Construction, the various roles involved and routes to get there!:


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