Alice Graham is a chartered graduate quantity surveyor at Faithful+Gould, an integrated project and programme management consultancy. A quantity surveyor estimates and controls costs for large construction projects. Alice is also a STEM ambassador and has a keen interest in raising awareness and promoting the uptake of careers in the construction industry by young people.
“I always imagine people sitting in a boardroom, and about to make a very big decision. If there is no diversity of thought, they might have blind spots and miss out on a great opportunity.”
I was born in Malawi and moved to Scotland when I was ten years old. I did the last part of primary school and all of secondary school in Edinburgh. I studied different subjects, but I was very keen on business and economics. At my school, we had a lot of supportive teachers and extracurricular activities such as Young Enterprise.
After finishing school, I went to Heriot-Watt University to study quantity surveying and graduated with a first-class degree in 2018.
Choosing quantity surveying
As I was growing up, I wanted to do medicine, but that didn’t work out because I didn’t get the grades. So, I ended up looking through university prospectuses.
My mother took architecture at university, so she studied with people that were quantity surveyors, one of her best friends was actually a quantity surveyor. So, she asked me why I didn’t look into that profession. She introduced me to a few people, and when I talked to them, I realised it was a great job. Both my parents encouraged me and supported me throughout my career journey.
Staying ahead of the game
When I graduated, I joined Faithful+Gould as a graduate quantity surveyor. I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, including a school, a new office, and a capital investment programme. I work on quite a variety of projects. Since I started, I’ve been able to work on public and private sector projects and programmes.
I was also sponsored by my company to undertake the process of becoming a Chartered Surveyor, which I passed in June 2021.
My current role involves providing cost management services for construction projects and programmes. In simple terms, this involves ensuring that my clients’ money is looked after, and that they have the information they need to make key decisions throughout the project or programme’s life cycle.
Day-to-day, I talk to people, have meetings, look at spreadsheets… I know for some people find figures dead scary, but I love spreadsheets. My role involves a lot of talking to people and looking at numbers to ensure sure that you and your clients are ahead of the game and are in control of the numbers.
COVID-19 impacted my profession in that we couldn’t do site visits to keep in line with the government guidance. It also meant that I worked from home throughout the pandemic.
It’s good to be coming back after COVID. I missed working with my colleagues and being able to have those random conversations with the people I shared an office with. I think people feel a bit hesitant to phone someone out of the blue using video calling. It is not as personal and spontaneous, so it changes the dynamic.
Diverse minds find great solutions quicker
For me, diversity of thought relates to being able to have different views of how to approach and tackle a problem. In the construction context, this is in relation to getting the right answers and solutions for our clients. From experience, working with someone who sees things differently can help a team to come up with good solutions quicker.
I always imagine people sitting in a boardroom, and about to make a very big decision. If there is no diversity of thought, they might have blind spots and miss out on a great opportunity.
I don’t think diversity has to necessarily be optical in the sense that you could have two women or two black people that have very different life experiences which inform their views. You can’t generalise. But it still matters that people are able to see people who look like them in places they want to be.
Privilege is not necessarily about colour
I always say to people that I recognise I was quite privileged, as I went to a top state school, and I have very educated parents. I recognise the opportunities I had that other people didn’t. For that reason, sometimes, when having conversations about diversity, I like to make the point that in some cases, I don’t think privilege necessarily has a colour. The recognition of my own privilege is the springboard I use to see how I can help to provide opportunities to those who have had less than what I did.
Attracting more women to the construction sector
There are activities that can be done at personal, company and industry level. On a personal level, I am a STEM ambassador, so I participate in activities that raise awareness of the profession – because in some cases, people don’t even know what a quantity surveyor is. On industry level, there are things like the Women into Construction and Engineering Awards that help to promote the work women do in the industry.
I have been impressed by the mentoring scheme provided by Women into Construction. I follow them on LinkedIn, and they always have positive stories about how they have helped women obtain a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card or helped them to get much-needed work experience to have a foot in the door.
Opportunities in programme management
Programme management services are gaining a lot of attention across our industry. So, it’s quite exciting to see how, in the future, the government and the private sector are going to be delivering major programmes and making them as successful as they can. That’s an exciting space that I’m keeping an eye on.