Many moons ago I studied interior and exhibition design at Swinburne Uni and went straight into interior design, always working in commercial workplace interiors and have done it for 17 years. For the last nine of those years, I was the associate director at V Arc, running the design practice. Through that time, I’d always delivered with FDC as a head contractor, I really liked who they were as a business. I got to know the owners well and six years ago, they said, how about the cross over to the dark side in a Business Development and design management role capacity.
I became the Operations Manager for FDC in Victoria, which has been awesome and a huge learning curve. I love the business development side of our industry. I love meeting new people. Having been in the industry for quite a long time, the network becomes greater and greater. Also, having been married to someone in property as well as is always helpful.
The operations role is very much looking at the business and our growth and supporting that growth. We are having a really great year despite all the challenges. Now I really focus heavily on the financial acumen of the business and making sure that our revenue forecasting is stable. I also look and assess the tenders coming in. I focus more on the fit-out part of the business, purely because of the background of where I’ve come from. Cam Jackson, who’s the GM for Victoria, has a construction, industrial background, so he focuses on that. So we pair well together. I look after the resourcing, manage the bid tender and estimating teams and the fit-out teams including the PM, CA and SM’s. So it’s quite diverse. It’s really exciting, always evolving, no day is the same.
It’s very versatile, fast paced and has been a challenge, doing it all from home because a lot of the success in what I do is being with the people that you work with and being on site and being available to people. So that’s been a challenge to make sure that I’m still available and let people know that I’m available for them all the time.
I’ve been really lucky in that Glenn (my husband) has taken on a lot of the homeschooling responsibilities. During the COVID lockdown, I think observing the challenges of homeschooling and everyone on the dining room table, we quickly really knew that we needed to carve out a space for me at home. The hours are pretty long and I’m constantly on the phone. So that worked well – I’ve got my little oasis in which to work.
There’s been a natural grouping of individuals both on site and in the office that are supporting each other. There’s little support networks right throughout the business. That’s been really good to say and quite warming to know that we’ve all got each other’s back. Look, we’ve adapted. You just get on with it. That’s my philosophy, get on with it, do what you need to do and make sure everybody’s going okay.
Having been in the industry for 22 years, there’s obviously been a huge change in that time and it’s interesting seeing the women that are coming into construction. A lot of the women that are coming into construction have been in a design background or had a previous career in design or project management, which is a natural segue to come into this industry. I run a cadet program and every year we take on cadets and I’m sure you find yourselves, you can’t go out and target women. I’m very much about employing the right person for the right job. We are doing expressions of interest at the moment for the cadet program and I’ve only had two women apply. That’s across Melbourne Uni and RMIT. They’re enormous universities that have probably the two best construction management programs going around and yet there’s only two women. I find that it is still a bit concerning that the natural segue is from a previous career and the career path that people choose to come into, not start wanting to go into it.
That’s purely an observation. FDC employs over 14 percent women within the workforce. When you have a limited supply and it’s the balance of employing the right person for the right job. I would hate to think that I’m a female in my role because I’m a female. I want to know that I’m in my role because I earned it and likewise with any female that I work with. It’s interesting, we do have a number of female PMs that are really great and our site guys love working with them. They say it’s a very different experience because women tend to be a lot more detail focused. Even in the senior levels of our business our female PMs are really highly regarded as fantastic people doing their jobs. It’s a shame that there’s not more women choosing that path in the industry.
I probably wouldn’t have taken on a role in construction when I had a young family. I crossed over when the kids were old enough that I didn’t have to be a full time parent and that I’m very lucky that my relationship was very supportive of my working long hours. My husband and I really do share the load in terms of raising our children. I think there’s a bit of that stigma and that also goes the other way in that because construction is such a demanding job as well.
The biggest challenge for me was leaving the design fraternity and going into the unknown. I knew I liked the business (FDC) and love the people who work there. I didn’t realise how full on it would be and how I really just needed to carve out my own path and run with it. I’m really self critical and I don’t like making mistakes. That’s probably been the biggest challenge that you kind of just have to bloody make them to realise how to make things better. So that was the other big challenge. I honestly could not put my hand on my heart and say that I’ve ever felt like anyone different in the business because I’m a female.
FDC just doesn’t operate in that way at all. And if I did, I wouldn’t be there. I was the first female at FDC to work one day at home a week and that for them was a huge change. I just said, well, if you want me, that’s what I’m going to do because I want to be a parent. I am a parent, you know that I’ve got kids and I want to drop them off at school or pick them up one day a week, and that’s for them was a big leap of faith.
I think because I was conscious of that, I’ve always worked really hard to never have anything late, to always be on top of everything and just make sure that there’s no excuse to say, well, you can’t do it. We do have a lot of returning-to-work mothers now and we do offer them flexibility.
Sounds really cliche, but I would say to my younger self, take the leap. Looking back, I would say don’t doubt yourself. I’ve always been a person to speak my mind and ask questions. Don’t take yourself quite so seriously, just enjoy the people, and not be so worried about what other people think. Sadly, that only probably comes with the older you get, the less you give a shit what other people think of you.
I’ve always asked because I’ve never been bullish about my progression. I think I am that sort of person that does throw their hat in the ring and am very happy to roll my sleeves up and do any job. At the moment.
Earn your stripes. I think particularly seeing a lot of the younger guys coming through (millennials), there’s this sort of expectation that they’re just going to be a CA for a year and then immediately be a PM. When I started in the industry, I was still studying, writing my thesis. I was the materials librarian at the first practice I worked at and then one day I got told to draw a joinery package and I didn’t even know what a bloody joinery package was. I had to be embarrassed and ask ‘what do you want? I don’t get it?’ I had to earn it. You had to earn your stripes when I came into this industry. I still think that is really important. Without doing that, I wouldn’t be in that position I am in today. Because you don’t have that grounding knowledge and appreciation for all the elements that you’ve had to cross to get into your role.
I certainly don’t feel like I’ve made it. I don’t know what made it looks like, but I’m very happy where I am. I think that’s also why I’m quite passionate about the cadet program, because we do a rotation into every element of the business and show them that there’s so many moving parts to a construction business. This is just a cog in the machine that’s really important.
My mother always told me if you don’t have the answer to sleep on it and it will come and I use it all the time. I used to jump the gun and now I actually have the sensibility to sleep on things and get a new perspective the next day. I always tell my kids, ‘stop bloody fighting!’.
It was super fresh to catch up with Amy and talk about her progression and journey to FDC. Amy has a great take on the grit and focus young people need to have coming in the industry, but also the sensibilities of someone who has seen and experienced it all – making her an amazing role model for women who want to lead in the construction industry. We wish her all the best for the rest of 2021. Here’s to carving out space when working from home! J & D x