As a child of the baby boom generation, there was a distinct difference between the aspirations of boys and girls. Boys took preference under the assumption that they would have to provide for a family and needed a secure, well-paid career. I gained a place at a grammar school passed 9 O levels and held down a fairly responsible part time job on Saturdays was not sufficient reason for expecting a career. There was no question of my staying on at school for A levels. Not suitable for girls! I was given little choice by my parents and advised to take a secretarial course at the local college. I was persuaded that I could get a good job, well paid and it was something I could come back to if necessary post children.
Having taken on roles at various levels as a secretary and by the age of 21 I was PA to the MD of a large engineering company and at last I had my own secretary. I managed the administration offices and the accounts staff, dealt with clients and customers and made myself fairly indispensable. I was well paid and living well. The challenges were declining and I have to admit to becoming bored.
I moved to Wales to run a hotel, married and started a family. For 15 years we ran a small agricultural contracting business blossomed into civil engineering contracts as government subsidies changed. We worked all over the country on some very large projects including the A30 in Cornwall, A5 Shrewsbury, A55 extension on Anglesey, sea defences in Brighton and many minor site excavations, waste tip cells and smaller road/bypass jobs. Administration of the business was tough and time consuming and e moved back to Wolverhampton with our four children.
In 1999 when my youngest was just three years old, I was contacted to see if I would do a couple of days copy typing at the University. The word-processing software package was new and I was a likely to succeed as anyone else. I think that maybe my age and experience were more in line with the venue for the work – in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office!
A couple of days in September 1999 have extended to now. Over the last 18 years I have progressed from copy typing to Senior Lecturer in Construction Project Management, there have been several challenges along the way and I also hope that it is not over yet. Upon reflection my story could be described as fate, being in the right place at the right time or grasping at opportunities. I am not sure. However, there have been two major elements that have enabled my progress. The first is being part of an organisation that provides, supports and encourages opportunity. The second is my first line manager, my mentor and my friend Professor Roy Newton. Both elements still exist and remain as important as ever to me.
I came to Wolverhampton in 1999 as the University was in a maelstrom of change. A new Vice-Chancellor and a dying business as it struggled with lack of development, an aging estate and unsupported systems - but it did have money. Restructuring included a new executive lead for Strategic Planning and Resources. The appointment of Professor Roy Newton to this role was to change my life. A few years’ later I asked ‘why me’ he replied I had good people skills and a broad business overview. This ‘big picture’ view was recognised as an asset for the first time – I just thought I was not very good any anything in particular. I was mentored and encouraged to take a more pro-active role in the projects and operational activities developing before me. A few small projects completed and an ever expanding knowledge of the workings of a modern university, the next major learning curve came with the proposal for a major regeneration project for the University. This was to encompass the estate, the business systems and the academic offering as a programme of projects with an expected finish date of November 2007.
I had been appointed as PA to the PVC six months after starting as a temporary secretary. The expansion of the Masterplan required more resources and I was promoted to Project Administrator and then to Strategic Project Officer and head of the Project Office for the University. The Masterplan raged until 2007 when it closed having completed its planned objectives. At one point in the programme I was part of a team co-ordinating 29 new and refurbished building projects, along with business process projects around IT and finance and the complete overhaul of the academic offering. During this time and as part of an educational business it became obvious that I needed qualifications and I studied for a Master’s degree in Business Administration part time whilst working full-time and looking after a large family. My husband also suffered a life-changing stroke while I was nearing the end of studying. Studying became my constant and something to retreat into. I gained my MBA in 2007 at the age of 51, the masterplan ended and my mentor retired.
The journey had been tough and exciting. Promotion was coupled with coaching and mentoring in academic practice as I presented at conferences, wrote academic papers, and published articles and book chapters on the experiences. In 2006 a request from the Dean of Engineering and the Built Environment to do some guest lecturing was timely and lead to a secondment into the School as a lecturer in Project Management made permanent a year later. 10 years on I am still enthralled by the job and life has become very good for me. Senior Lecturer and postgraduate Course Leader for Construction Project Management is my current working status. I still have ambitions but less options. Making a difference to others, sharing my experiences and introducing the softer side of management to construction is my satisfaction. Lessons learned? Listen and absorb, think and learn deeply enabling application and critical judgement. Set your ground rules, follow your instincts and take opportunities. You don’t have to know the end to start and to take part. Life has a way of providing if you trust others and yourself.