Building a sustainable future

Clare Tait

By Clare Tait, an environmental advisor for Kier Construction Scotland

It’s hard to imagine that reviewing tree root protection plans or land remediation strategies as part of a construction job, but this is indeed part of my varied role as an environmental adviser at Kier.

I’ve always liked being outdoors and a week of office life during my high school work experience confirmed for me that I did not want an ordinary desk job. At university I picked Environmental Management because I had loved geography at school, but I wasn’t really sure what it would lead to.

I fancied working in the built environment and after I finished my degree I sent my CV off to many companies. Kier Construction Scotland responded to invite me for an interview and I was offered a permanent position which included being part of the Group’s three year graduate scheme. Since then, I haven’t looked back.

Joining the construction industry has certainly given me more than I bargained for! As part of Kier’s graduate scheme, I’ve been able to experience working in other areas of the Group and I’ve also learned new skills, such as undertaking dormouse and newt surveys. I’ve taken part in professional development courses designed to grow and retain future talent to the business, plus I’ve been lucky enough to work with local charities and Third Sector Organisations, such as Community Wood Recycling which collects and reuses wood waste in environmentally-friendly ways.

What’s more, Kier has paid for my professional training at the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment where I recently passed my Practitioner Exam and can now start working towards becoming fully chartered.

My day to day role involves making sure that every project has a sound environmental plan in place. I cover the whole of Scotland and the north east of England, from Middlesbrough to the Orkney Islands.

During the project pre-construction phase, I review client site investigations and ecological surveys. I also advise on mitigation measures, waste minimisation techniques, silt management, and help implement site-specific environmental plans. These can range from assisting with remediation strategies to looking for biodiversity enhancements. Once we are in the construction phase, I regularly inspect our sites to ensure we are compliant.

The construction industry is at a great place where sustainability is becoming increasingly important to clients and its end user. Kier has various targets to reduce energy consumption, waste and water and to enhance the environment surrounding the projects in which we build.

Being part of these new initiatives and involved in implementing best practice is one of the things that I love about my job. Every year we get to run an Environment Week where we have guest speakers, toolbox talks and workshops across the country to raise awareness on the environment. Next week I will be presenting at a Supply Chain Sustainability workshop discussing sustainability within construction.

I’m rarely in the office and the variety of work is both fun and constant. I’ve developed a children’s environment activity booklet which won two Green Apple Awards and have taken part in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) project with schools where pupils created an eco-hotel and presented at a Supply Chain Sustainability School workshop. No two days are ever the same, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

But I am one of the lucky ones who stumbled into this exciting career. Unfortunately, construction has a perception issue and most people think it is all about men wearing hard hats. It’s not. As a young female entering the industry, I have found it welcoming and rewarding.

The type of jobs on offer in construction are varied – from working outside on site, to managing ecology or health and safety, designing buildings, and even developing new materials. We need engineers, scientists, environmental managers, robotics specialists and craftspeople, to name just a few of the huge variety of opportunities in the sector. And the great thing is that there are so many ways to start a career in construction through apprenticeships, foundation degrees and graduate schemes.

We still have more work to do to change this misperception of women working in construction and to show them that construction provides limitless opportunities for women and young people and offers a rewarding and fulfilling career.

It’s something I hope to see communicated more within schools and via career advisors, and I am proud to be part of a company which is proactively addressing this. As part of their Shaping Your World initiative, Kier has pledged one percent of its workforce to act as school career ambassadors, working directly with schools to increase the profile of construction. I hope this helps young people open their eyes to the diverse and exciting world of work waiting for them.