Peter Young has been working in the built environment for 37 years and is Group Managing Director, Kier Construction. Here, Peter reveals his personal journey in to the industry, his frustration over the lack of early careers advice and how he hopes to encourage more people to consider a role in construction.
“When asked by people what advice I would give to someone starting out in our industry and I cite a sentiment similar to that of Steve Jobs, ‘the only way to do great work is to love what you do’. It’s coming up to 40 years that I have worked in the built environment and it has and continues to be, hugely rewarding to have a career with such a variety of tasks, projects and great people to work with and to see the projects I have helped deliver.
I didn’t always know that I wanted to work in construction. My journey in to the industry started when I was 16 years old. I decided I didn’t want to pursue higher education in its traditional sense, but I knew I wanted to find a career where I could mix my academic strengths in the sciences with something practical.
Living in Devon in the 1980s, I noticed a number of changes in the landscape and significant changes to the local infrastructure. I particularly remember the creation of the Okehampton bypass through the Dartmoor National Park, the opening of the Derriford Hospital in Plymouth and the new terminal at Exeter Airport. When I saw land surveyors and engineers working on these projects, the technical aspects of their jobs made me curious and appealed to me, but I didn’t consider it as a career to progress at that point.
After securing relatively good exam results, I went to the local technical college to see what options were available to me. I was expecting to be overwhelmed with information but sadly I wasn’t, and I found careers advice both at school and college, uninformed and uninspired.
I discovered the BTEC in construction, which included a mix of construction science, maths in measurement, and land surveying. It immediately appealed to me. At the time, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) was engaging with local colleges and sponsoring people who were looking to pursue a career in construction. It was part of the government’s Youth Training Scheme (YTS) and you were paid £25.00 a week being on it – that seemed a lot of money back in 1983 to a school leaver!
I was one of the first cohorts on the new programme and what really attracted me to the course was the structured approach; I would be on a work placement for four days and then attend college one day and evening a week. When I started the course, I was hooked, I had found a world that fascinated me. It was the perfect mix of practical and theory, allowing me to work in varied environments, and be part of the changing landscape. That pride when you tell someone ‘I helped build that’ never goes away.
Following this one-year BTEC course, I was fortunate to be employed by Balfour Beatty, where I had done my work placement. I rotated between departments – from shadowing the contracts manager to the quantity surveying and estimating teams. I didn’t appreciate at the time how much I was learning. I gained a real overview of project delivery and it was at this time I discovered an enthusiasm for the estimating process – I could see it joined all the dots from pricing to tendering and the importance of a good quality relationships with subcontractors and suppliers. My appetite for the commercial elements of construction continued when I moved to quantity surveying, understanding how and where margin and profit is generated and its integrated relationship with risk and control of this. In simple terms you need to understand where risk exists to manage it.
Five years later, I started working for Kier, joining as a quantity surveyor in the Devon team. A pivotal point in my early career was when we secured a retail project with Sainsbury’s, it was a first for the business and one I put myself forward for and I was supported by the area director at the time to work on it. It spurned by my desire to learn, develop my career and widen my experiences senior members of the team extended more opportunities to me.
Two years later Kier acquired another business in Cornwall and I was requested to work there. The prospect was intimidating as I knew it would have its challenges, especially as I was the only existing Kier person to be based there to help integrate the team. It was at this point I learnt the value and importance of good relationships. I was only 23 years old at the time and I had to work hard to earn peoples’ respect and equally showcase the high standards Kier expected. I was in the spotlight.
As part of this team we delivered the Tate Gallery at St Ives in 1992, a project that I am particularly proud of. I was part of a team that delivered this iconic building that now attracts over 50,000 visitors each year.
I progressed to commercial and then regional commercial manager for Devon & Cornwall which then increased to incorporate South Wales. I moved to general management as Contracts Manager role and then Area Director by the age of 29. Just before my 32nd birthday I was appointed Managing Director of Western & Wales, a post I held for ten years before joining the regional board as Executive Director for Building UK South, then Executive Director for Buildings for the whole of the UK, which lead to my current position.
There was no guidebook, I put the success of my career down to the opportunity of working with great people, alongside a little bit of luck, circumstance and fortune, with a bit of old-fashioned self-application. I made myself available at opportune times, ensured I showed that I had a hunger for development and I understood the commitment needed.
Working in this industry is extremely rewarding, we are delivering projects that change people’s lives, be it hospitals, schools, offices, or leisure centres, all have their own merit and unique circumstances. That moment when you hand the keys over to a client is priceless.
I wish our Shaping Your World campaign had been around for my 16-year-old self when I was unsure of what to do or who to speak to. My discovery of the built environment was self-guided and possibly by luck but what is a real shame as I know we will have lost talented individuals to other industries because of the lack of awareness about construction and the huge range of opportunities available.
We must support the next generation of talent as they look to their futures, I love my career in construction, I hope my experience encourages others to join this industry and enjoy the fulfilling career that it will provide.”