Nicola Ellis is an assistant quantity surveyor in our pre-cladding team based in our Construction business in London. Here, Nicola shares her journey from estate agent to quantity surveyor, while studying towards her Quantity Surveying degree, funded by Kier…

“My journey into construction has been a little different to some. At school, I wanted to be in the police, but that was back in the 2000s, and there wasn’t the opportunity.

“I had to find a full-time job and ended up becoming an estate agent at the local branch in my hometown where I stayed for about seven years.

“The move to quantity surveyor was just by chance, the daughter of one of our tenants was a recruiter, and she mentioned that she was currently recruiting for a quantity surveyor degree apprenticeship, and she’d like to put me forward if I was interested.

“I had no idea what a quantity surveyor was back then or what a degree apprenticeship was, but I knew I didn’t want to be an estate agent forever, so I took the leap!

“When I first started, I was so excited about this new opportunity, and to have joined a career path I could see true progression in. When people think of apprentices, often what comes to mind is a school leaver, but I was in my late 20s when I first started my course, and it hadn’t really dawned on me until I started university about a year into my employment, just how much older I was than the other students.

“It was quite daunting at first, but once you break it down, and realise that you’re doing this for yourself, and it really doesn’t matter about your age – everyone can learn if they’re willing.

“On my course we actually have a mother and son who are completing the same degree at the same time, and I love it! They’re always competing for their grades and trying to outdo each other but it’s great to see such a variety of people on the course.

“Like I said, I had no clue what the role of a quantity surveyor was before I applied for the apprenticeship, but I would say the term is perhaps quite outdated now, as we do far more than counting bricks! I spend my time managing subcontractors, liaising with clients, estimating material quantities (it’s true, there is a bit of counting!), working out costs and timescales, managing the legal side of things and ensuring the project is up to standards, weighing up commercial risks and more.

“Quantity surveying is a really great starting career in construction because the role covers so many elements, that you can really go anywhere with it. When I first started, I had tunnel vision that I was just always going to be a quantity surveyor and would progress within that specific role, but now after shadowing colleagues across the business, including site managers, project managers and architects, my eyes have been opened to the opportunities available, and Kier has been really great in supporting me with getting that exposure and additional training outside of just my degree course.

“I’ve learnt so much about construction since starting, it’s even helped me through my house renovation, a lot of which I have been able to do myself because of the trades I’ve learnt from being in the industry!”

“My first quantity surveying role was with a company which is based in the Midlands, but they had come closer to London for a specific project. Once that project completed, it was before COVID-19 and lockdowns, so working from home wasn’t as commonplace as it is now, and I had to decide between moving away from home or finding a new role. Ultimately I decided it was best for me to find somewhere new, closer to home and that’s how I came to join Kier.

“My degree was being funded by my previous company, and Kier has continued to fund that for me, allowing me to earn a degree without having a single penny of student debt which is amazing.

“I didn’t even know degrees like this existed when I left school and I especially had never considered a career in construction either. I knew it was a male dominated industry, and I guess I had this assumption that as a woman in construction, you’d have to conform to a certain stereotype, but you absolutely don’t. You can still get your nails done, wear makeup and you’re taken just as seriously as everyone else.

“If I could give one piece of advice to someone who’s looking for more out of their career, take a look at apprenticeships on offer. I was 27 when I started mine and I thought I was way too old, but it was the best decision I ever made.”

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