Combining her flair for art and architecture, Gemma has drawn up a career in project managing the design, delivery and installation of public sector schemes in Manchester.
- How did you get into what you do?
After completing my art foundation degree, I combined my love of art and academia to study architecture before being accepted on a graduate scheme with an architect firm in Liverpool.
After a few years, I became a technical business development director at a company specialising in the design, installation and maintenance of renewable technologies in commercial developments.
During the recession, however, companies were reluctant to spend their capital on renewable technology and I moved back into architecture - this time focusing on interior design and management for the fit out of retail units, residential developments and office refurbishments.
I became interested in project management when I was providing designs for the Home Office and the Charity Commission on estate rationalisation programmes. My employer at the time helped me with the transition to become a project manager where I managed the delivery of a series of smaller, fascinating schemes, before Mace offered me an opportunity in their Manchester office.
- What support have you been given at Mace?
I've completed the Women of the Future programme, which was launched to encourage women into the industry and mitigate the gender divide. It was very informative and inspiring.
I also have a great mentor who acts as a good sounding board and motivates me to develop my softer skills and interests.
- What do you enjoy most about your current role at Mace?
- I really enjoy the front-end work at the feasibility stage; from a business case or pupil intake numbers on a spreadsheet, to collating the necessary information to form a brief. I love watching the design flourish from a concept into scaled drawings to eventually being built, and seeing end-users' satisfaction.
- What skills do you need to be good at your job?
- Although you need an adequate understanding of the construction industry and the processes required to be a project manager, it’s also important to be a good communicator. Being able to manage people and budgets, keep your stakeholders informed and having the ability to mitigate risks and drive the programme forward are key traits.
- What advice would you give to someone looking to get into what you do?
It doesn’t matter which route you take, but if you’re unsure like I was, try gaining some industry experience working in a project management office, or see if they recommend any particular courses and whether they will sponsor you.
Once you're in a consultancy office, try finding out about similar consultancy roles such as quantity surveying and building surveying. Ask yourself what these roles involve and what you like or dislike about them. Most people are unaware of the varied roles within the construction industry. If however, you want to move into a project management career from an early age, there are plenty of degree courses available after you finish college.
- What’s the big trend for your specialism in the next five years?
- There are some exciting schemes on the horizon in the north over the coming years, such as the Northern Powerhouse and HS2. Manchester’s infrastructure needs to be able to support such developments, which will provide a platform for multiple investments and opportunities in the region and our sector.
- What might someone be surprised to know about you?
Lots! I am a farmer’s daughter at heart. I love socialising in my spare time too. I paint, play tennis and ride horses, but what you probably do not know is that I’m also a church organist.
“I have a great mentor who acts as a good sounding board and motivates me to develop my softer skills and interests.”