Straight Talking – An interview with Susan Thomas, Senior Project Manager, Acivico Ltd

To celebrate National Women’s Day today, Susan Thomas, Acivico’s Senior Project Manager provides an insight to her construction career. At Acivico, Susan is responsible for project managing a number of educational new build establishments across the Birmingham area. Within the past five years alone, she has project managed over £44m of construction projects within the education sector.

An advocate of encouraging the new generation of women into the construction industry, her enthusiasm and passion for her role is infectious and proves to be a true role model for the new talent the industry requires.

Dawn (Interviewer): Walk me through step-by-step how you progressed through your education before joining Acivico.

Susan: When I left school I decided I wanted to utilise what I was good at, I was always practical and wanted to do something which was a little different to the norm. I decided to pursue an apprenticeship and qualified as a painter, decorator and plasterer, which I spent the first five years of my working career doing.  The turning point in my career was when I realised I didn’t just want to fill the cracks in the wall, I wanted to know where they came from! I made the decision to find out – and enrolled in course to complete a HND in Building Studies. I enjoyed the course so much I progressed to complete a BSc in Building Surveying. Starting my career with a trade has provided me with a fantastic view of my profession. Learning and training within a trade has really provided me with insight and understanding, which I value within my current role. I wouldn’t have got to where I am now without it.

Dawn: How did your role develop in the construction industry?

Susan: My new qualifications secured my first fully fledged role as a Building Surveyor within the private sector. The role had a focus on retail rebranding and shop fitting, was fast paced and high pressured.  The experience of the intense environment provided me with a huge amount of my current work ethic. In 2005, I made the move to Urban Design, a department of Birmingham City Council and I have never looked back.

Dawn: How did you make the move into Project Management?

Susan: I wanted to make even more of an impact and further progress my career. The door opened for my next career step when the Additional Primary School Places projects commenced at Acivico. The scheme provided me with the opportunity to move into project management. As a Building Surveyor I was able to add value to the role with my specialist knowledge. In 2013, I chose to solidify my role and complete my MSc in Construction Project Management.

Dawn: Why do you love what you do now?

Susan: I would not change what I do at all and I am very passionate about my role in project management at Acivico.  I have managed a variety of projects across the education sector for a number of years now and the satisfaction I receive from my role is immense. Each and every project I work on, I am proud to be involved with, (even the difficult ones!) Helping to support the creation of learning environments for the children is something I am extremely proud of.

Dawn: What would you like to see in the future of the construction industry?

Susan: I would really like to see more women working within a trade and we all need to step up where we can to support women to select a career in construction. From my own experience, starting out with a trade background has provided me with the foundation of my career and a springboard for me doing what I do now.

Dawn: Can you give me any highlights of your project management career at Acivico?

Susan: Without question the first thing which springs to mind is the satisfaction of driving past a school and having an extremely proud moment of ‘I project managed that’! There are always hurdles within the role which need to be overcome, which is part of the course of a construction project, it is also what makes the role so exciting. Knowing I have been part of enriching student’s learning environments and local communities makes me extremely proud.