23rd June 2021
When Jennifer Johnston, design manager at Farrans Construction started in the industry in the mid-1990s, she was the only female architect in her practice and rarely saw another female on project sites.
Today is International Women in Engineering Day so we sat down to discuss what encouraged her into this sector and how her role contributes to some of the most technically challenging projects that are delivered by Farrans across the UK and Ireland every year.
Tell me about your career path to date?
Originally I wanted to be an architectural technologist. I enjoyed technology subjects and was keen to leave high school. I left school at 16 and attended college studying Building Studies which gave me a really good insight into lots of different roles within the design and construction industry. I was encouraged by the head of school to consider a career in architecture so I applied and was accepted into Manchester Metropolitan University.
Having completed my degree, masters and professional exams, I worked as an architect in Northern Ireland on a number of commercial projects and listed buildings – pharmaceutical laboratories, shopping centres and university projects. I then emigrated to Sydney in Australia with my husband and three young children and continued to work for an architectural practice there as an associate director, returning to UK after 10 years abroad. It was on my return to the UK that I began working as a design manager and have thoroughly enjoyed it.
What is involved in your current role?
I appoint and manage the design consultants and subcontractor procurement and design process , considering health and safety matters, buildability, quality and cost control. I am the point of contact for our clients on all design matters and change control issues. I lead design meetings, identify issues of risk and review design for value engineering opportunities. I work as part of the project team to ensure information is adequate for construction and resolve design related site issues. Design managers are also involved in tenders, developing construction strategies and reviewing tender information along with translating potential projects to live projects through the PCSA process.
What has been your favourite project to work on?
Every project brings different challenges and rewards and I’ve truly enjoyed every project that I’ve worked on. I don’t have a favourite I’m afraid! It’s great to see a building that you’ve been working so hard on, progress to completion and handover. There is a great buzz and sense of achievement in that. What I enjoy most is the sense of team spirit that we have within Farrans Construction. The culture that Farrans has worked so hard to instil throughout the management and staff means all staff are valued and respected. This is a fast paced, ever evolving industry with new technologies emerging constantly so I am constantly learning. I will never be bored!
What is the most important thing you have learned along the way?
Stay true to your values, no matter what. For me that’s having integrity in all I do. As the saying goes ‘Integrity is the seed for achievement, the principle that never fails.’ Communication is key in any team. No project is free from challenges. Embrace them and ensure you share the burden.
How has the industry changed since you started working?
The industry has changed immensely and the perception of the construction industry is much improved too. When I started in the industry in the mid-1990s, I was the only female architect in the practice and I rarely saw another female on site. It’s very different now I’m pleased to say as misconceptions about gender specific roles have largely diminished . There has never been a better time to enter the construction industry with so many job opportunities available.
Do you feel like the industry is more open to diversity and change now?
Absolutely and that change is accelerating thankfully. There is a real acknowledgement within the industry that diversity and inclusion is key to future success and innovation. Farrans is leading the way with a number of initiatives – including our DNA Network - and we are excited about what the future brings as we not only close the gender gap but also identify and remove any barriers which could make people perceive that they are not welcome in this industry. Everyone is welcome.
What would be your advice to women considering working in this industry?
Go for it! You will not be disappointed. Whatever your subject interest, there’s a place for you in the construction industry. There is a huge skills shortage in construction currently and countless opportunities for women to take up roles across every discipline and at every level. Let’s shatter that glass ceiling!