Simon Jones, senior construction manager at Vale Southern Construction, discusses the value of learning from senior colleagues
What attracted you to the industry?
My dad owned a café for 25 years and I was brought up around builders who came in for breakfast. They seemed to be always laughing and it just appealed from an early age. I never wanted to do anything else and went straight into the industry at 16.
What is the best advice you have been given?
When you start on site, don’t be afraid to ask questions. People want to help and will never shut you down.
Listen to what they have to say, even if you’ve heard similar advice before; take the best bits from what they tell you, and be open to learning from those with years of experience.
What project have you worked on that you are most proud of?
I was the engineer on a new bridge over a canal in Farnham, Hampshire. The job involved placing 30m long pre-cast concrete beams over the canal using a 1,000 tonne mobile crane.
The beams were transported from the north of England, so part of my role was to track them as they were escorted by the police from county to county.
Even if you’ve heard similar advice before, take the best bits from what people tell you and be open to learning from those with years of experience
Today, the police don’t escort oversized vehicles, but back then each county’s traffic police would escort them to their border.
If there was an accident that called them away, the lorries had to wait until the police were available again.
I had to keep in touch with all parties to prevent the lorries bunching at the borders and hold them across the counties.
I think it was the spectacle of the job that stays with me, the sheer scale of the crane, the flashing lights of the escort and the public spectating.
I still have a photo on my fridge of the whole team sat on the last beam to go in, like that classic image of the steel erectors on an old New York skyscraper.
What advice would you give to somebody starting in the industry today?
Have a long-term career plan. If, for example, your priority is financial success, then specialise, find a niche, and become a subcontractor.
This is the same advice I was given by a director of Wimpey Homes when I first started in the industry 38 years ago, and it still rings true to me.
Entering as a tradesperson is a great option when you’re young, but be mindful that some roles can be physically tough on your body as you get older.
As you reach your mid to late thirties, you may want to think about potentially coming off the tools and moving into more of a management role.
What has changed the most about construction since you’ve been working in the industry?
The biggest change has been to health and safety. Thankfully, the days of taking risks and shortcuts to save time are long gone and construction is now a much safer environment to work in.