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Interview: Breaking Down Walls with Roisin Byrne

We spoke to Kier Group Assistant Design Manager Roisin Byrne about the levelling power of Degree Apprenticeships for women in construction.

Women make up 53% of the UK Workforce and Construction accounts for 5-7%. But despite some progress, the Women in Construction campaign confirms women still represent just 13% of the Construction workforce, 16% of director roles and 1% of the onsite workforce.

So what’s the breakthrough moment for a woman who wants to switch careers for a fulfilling role in our fascinating industry? For Kier Group’s Roisin Byrne, it was starting a Construction Site Management degree apprenticeship with Kier Group and Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).

Thanks for chatting to us, Roisin! Can you tell us about your previous career and what made you want to switch to Construction?

I was working as a project manager for a telecommunications company. Specifically, I coordinated civils digs teams organising the infrastructure builds for fibre connections. But when I read about the apprenticeship Kier was offering, I knew it was a fantastic opportunity. Because it felt like it was made for someone like me, who slipped through the net when the time to go to university with my peers came around.

So why has a degree apprenticeship make your career migration feel more manageable?

Degree apprenticeships offer a great deal to a working individual. Because being able to work and study negates the pressure of doing both separately – it would be much harder without the support of my workplace and my study time would be very limited.

These types of apprenticeships allow you to study (in most cases free of charge) whilst earning a wage and learning on and off the job. The apprenticeship has opened lots of doors for me professionally and also offered me a lot of personal freedom.

And do you think you have added value to your employer and team?

Absolutely. Support is a huge part of my role at Kier. And the more I have learnt, the faster I can work. Being able to help other Design Managers when they have several different information requests (often all at once) is really valuable. And the information I pick up in lectures helps my decision making at work – employers benefit from degree apprenticeships as much as employees.

All my Design Manager colleagues are very knowledgeable and supportive, but when I have the knowledge to make decisions independently, it pushes projects through and also boosts my confidence. Plus, Kier puts so much faith and resources into me and  really makes me feel secure and happy in my role.

“Previously, it wasn’t possible for me to work, study and be a parent. But the degree apprenticeship combines all three as I build the knowledge for a specific career”

Do you have any specific examples of how you’ve applied the knowledge from your course at work?

Much of my work involves retaining knowledge and being able to understand consultants when they talk to me about their specific disciplines. And during the course, I’ve learned about everything from piling and civil engineering to fire hazards, and health and safety to legislation like the Building Safety Act.

The course gives me a great level of fluency when I’m talking to consultants – I understand what they’re saying, what they need from me and vice versa. It means instead of taking the lead from another Design Manager, I’m able to quickly identify which consultants are required for the project according to the client’s needs and budget.

Have your ARU tutors been supportive in linking your studies to your work?

I’ve found my tutors to be amazing! Our course leader is really hands-on and offers the same level of support as our lecturers. I know I can always ask for help and receive a quick response.

I love my peers and my incredible lecturers are a great support whenever I need it. I don’t feel Monday blues anymore because I’m so excited to get to university. I’m really glad Kier put me on an apprenticeship with ARU  – I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Do you think you would have achieved the same success without a degree apprenticeship?

Previously, it wasn’t possible for me to work, study and be a parent. But the degree apprenticeship combines all three as I build the knowledge for a meaningful career.

And there are role-specific reasons I couldn’t have been a Design Manager previously. Because changes to the Building Safety Act required a certain level of competency for my role and these would have been extremely difficult to achieve without this degree apprenticeship.

I know ARU offer several different degree apprenticeship pathways for the built environment, but the possibilities for me are endless even with this specific course in Construction Management. It gives me the knowledge to go wherever I want in the industry, and we have directors with the same qualification. I don’t plan to leave the design team anytime soon, but if I did, there are very few departments I couldn’t move to.

“Careers in Construction are just as much for women as they are for men. I’m privileged to be a ‘woman in Construction’ but I believe the industry benefits greatly from having each of us too”.

Can degree apprenticeships can help women cement their position in Construction?

Absolutely. It’s great we’re making university education more accessible, but degree apprenticeships are life-changing for those who still can’t get there. Representation is important and I feel like I’m making meaningful changes in small ways.

When I deliver presentations about Construction apprenticeships, other women and girls see the possibility of careers in our industry as less intimidating, realistic and achievable.

It has traditionally been a male-dominated industry but careers in Construction are just as much for women as they are for men. To see a woman delivering that message changes perceptions.

I’ve met so many intelligent, inspirational women in Construction and they bring much-needed imagination and creativity to the sector. I’m privileged to be a ‘woman in Construction’ but I believe the industry benefits greatly from having each of us too.

So it’s fair to say you’d recommend a Construction degree apprenticeship?

Definitely. Apprenticeships make construction careers more accessible for women because they bridge the gap for those who find higher education inaccessible because of childcare arrangements.

The apprenticeship has changed my life and I’m grateful to have a supportive employer like Kier provide the right tools to shape me into the right person for the job.

When I first applied, I had a feeling it would be a good opportunity – but I now realise it was the best decision I’ve ever made.