Margaret Conway is a project manager at McAleer & Rushe in Belfast who has recently earned a place in the record books as the first woman to win the prestigious title Construction Manager of the Year, fending off stiff competition from 84 other finalists. She completed an 80-week project two months early with a clean health and safety record and introduced a new software system to streamline the snagging process, working closely with client Belfast City Council on a major redesign, saving the client £1.25 million. Margaret also worked closely with local non-profit organisation – Womenstec – arranging tours and lectures from local colleges as well as placements for joinery, plumbing and electrical students, some of whom have gone on to find work in the sector or enrolled on construction courses.
“…I don’t really feel like I am blazing a trail for women, I am just doing a job that I love. However, I do hope that my award will make women at least consider construction as a career option…”
Discovering construction engineering as a mature student
I have always been interested in engineering and STEM subjects and when I came across the construction engineering degree at the Ulster University it sounded really interesting. I went back to uni at 24 as a mature student and I had two young kids at the time, so it was definitely tough going.
I graduated from the Ulster University in 2006, I joined McAleer and Rushe in 2010 and since joining them have done a few different roles within the company including bid manager and project manager.
My role on a day to day basis
No two days are the same and that is one of the things I love most about the role. Some days involve walking around site and discussing important issued with our site management teams such as health and safety, other days involves dealing with sub-contractors, reviewing progress and working with the quantity surveyors to get suppliers appointments.
Other days I can be working with our consultants through design or meeting with our client.
My award-winning project – quite a challenge!
I had just 18 months to demolish a 10-storey block and construct a 100,000 sqft turnkey office on a city centre site with no-storage restrictions and painfully difficult access. (Major demolition work, for example, could take place on Sunday only.) It was quite a challenge! I also had to deal with late design changes, a three-month holdup in getting the contract signed, and a budget that was even tighter than the site!
Making use of technology
Technology is helping to streamline a lot of our process from document management to snagging on site. People with the industry are openly embracing the new technology as it helps reduce paperwork and saves valuable time.
The most amazing feeling
It was the most amazing feeling to receive the award, particularly given the high quality amongst all the finalists. I don’t really feel like I am blazing a trail for women, I am just doing a job that I love. However, I do hope that my award will make women at least consider construction as a career option.
Advice to girls and women who are interested in construction
My advice to women and girls who are interested in construction is to go for it. Construction might not have a great image but the industry is working hard to change that as it doesn’t accurately reflect how professional we are. For those who are considering it as a career option, I can honestly say from my experience women are always treated as equals and with respect.
Coming up next
I am currently working on a large office block in Edinburgh which will become the new regional hub for HMRC. I really love working for McAleer and Rushe and hope to continue in my role as project manager and hopefully get working on some of the very challenging projects we have coming up over the next few years.
I am also working with the company to develop an apprenticeship degree programme and to help promote construction roles within schools.