Bruce Johnson MCIOB, construction director at Whitson Construction, shares his experiences of climbing the career ladder and explains why diversity must start at the top
What attracted you to a career in construction?
I trained as a joiner when I left school but couldn’t find a position when my training finished. I then started working as an administrator for a Ford main car dealership for a number of years and then moved to become an administrator at Peugeot Motor Company.
I then realised I couldn’t progress within the motor trade without a degree and became discontented.
I decided to see if I could get into the role that I trained for, but it took me a few years and another administrative job first before I got there.
What are some of the challenges you have faced pursuing a career in construction?
I find many managers in construction are very set in their ways and haven’t moved with the times and this is illustrated by the types of people employed in the industry. In my experience, diversity of all forms up North is much less than down South.
When I was a site manager I had all the qualifications and experience required but I struggled to get positions which others with less qualifications and experience did.
Have you faced discrimination in the workplace due to your race? If so, what impact has this had?
Yes, but only covertly so nothing that could be proven, but by the time you get into your 40s, you know when it happens.
For example, you apply for a job and the recruiter messages you within five minutes to say you’re not qualified for the position. Or a manager says: "You’re so much better than I thought you’d be". Or a colleague says: "How did you get this job?". Or people on site ask: "What do you do, are you security?".
Nothing like this ever happened when I worked in London.
How has the industry changed over the course of your career? Does it feel more inclusive now?
Things have got much better for some over the years as there are more people of colour or of different nationalities and more women in construction.
At the top end, things are still the same, unfortunately, as there seems to be a ceiling which limits minorities.
What action would you like to see from other industry leaders to help make construction a more inclusive place for minority groups?
The mindset of the people at the top needs to be changed to start employing people on merit, instead of what they look like, what university they went to, or who they are related to etc. This will then filter down even more to site positions where we can have a fully inclusive and more productive construction workforce.
During the recruitment process, I think CVs should be anonymised. This would encourage hiring managers to pick the best candidates for the jobs regardless of what they look like or their background.
We are all capable of doing a great job, whatever we look like.
What advice would you give someone from an underrepresented group who is just starting out in construction?
I would tell them to never give up and keep on pushing until they get that first break. Once they have that position, they have to be the best and show how good they are.
I would also recommend becoming chartered – MCIOB, MRICS or MICE – which will start to set them apart from the others.