Looking outside the box

Looking outside the box led Catherine Murphy to Construction

Catherine Murphy currently holds the position of Senior Project Manager at KMCS Ltd Construction Project and Cost Managers. Catherine has worked in the Construction industry for over 16 years.

How did you get into the industry?

I come from a construction family, my grandfather was a builder with a merchant’s shop, my uncles are quantity surveyors, engineers and builders, the exposure I had all of my life to these profession’s led to this being a choice for me. The career guidance from my convent school wasn’t stems supportive and the direction they were pointing you in was quite defined.   That was the education system at that time, there was very little career guidance.  I looked outside the box when it came to filling in the CAO form and went down the Construction Studies route. I Studied in Carlow IT for 3 years and came out from there with a Diploma. Over those 3 years I found my niche and Quantity Surveying (Construction Economics) in Bolton St was the route for me and I achieved a place to complete my BSc Hons degree.  It took an extra 2 years but was worth it to graduate with a Degree in Construction Economics.  I was the last year to leave Bolton St with a degree awarded by Trinity College.  I went to work as a QS after qualifying and then made a conscious decision to complete the part-time Postgrad in Project Management.   The rest as they say is history, I went straight into KMCS Ltd. as an assistant PM and never looked back.

Did you ever fear you were getting into a very male dominated industry? The ratio of females to males was very low at that time.

Frankly, fear was never an issue. I made a very good group of female friends in college that weren’t in my class who, and still are, very supportive. By nature, I just get on with it and don’t dwell on the male / female aspect. At the time starting out I didn’t think ‘I’m the only female in this lecture’ or ‘the only female on a field trip’ and in reality at the beginning it was a case of go in, put your head down, get through a 60-minute lecture. Then we all got to know each other and it never really came into the equation. Eighty students started, and two of these were girls. In my final year there was one girl who finished — me. In Bolton St, the first day one particular guy reached out and suddenly I was one of the gang — a great group of guys and girls.

Since I started in this industry the ratio of females to males has changed. I would acknowledge the numbers have increased and I am encountering more females in the industry every day, from areas like health and safety to administration on site to architectural, engineering, acoustics and fire. However, companies need to make a concerted effort from the top to hire females, thus achieving a gender balance within their company. KMCS Ltd. has approximately a 50:50 female to male gender ratio to the benefit of us within the company and our clients.

What was it like when you started out in the industry?

I started as an assistant project manager and cut my teeth doing all of the day to day roles. I’m in construction for 16 years and with the greatest of respect to my younger peers in the industry at the moment, when I started out you were making the tea, loading the photocopier and you just didn’t question it. Things have changed for the better in that respect but that’s the way I started. It was the same for males as well as females. In my current office we all carry out the same roles, be it tiding up after a meeting or the day to day mundane tasks, whether you are the managing director or the last one in the door, male or female, everybody is equal and that is the way it should be.

In all of my years in the industry I have only had respect from my male peers and at times a lot of them have been older than I. I feel that if you treat people (male or female) with respect you receive that in return. If you have a valid point to be made — be it standing in the middle of a building site or sitting in a boardroom and articulate it well, it will be heard and taken on board whether you are male or female.

What projects that you have worked on over the years stand out?

After the recession, there is the beginning of a new era with construction in the city centre evident and we see cranes in skyline again. Previous to this there was a serious lack of office space in the city centre, out of necessity some of our clients looked outside the confines of the centre, taking on existing warehouses and converting them into office spaces. There are two projects, in the recent past that I have worked on with a talented group of design and construction teams, that stand out for me. Working on those 2 particularly challenging projects to turn very dark dingy warehouses into light, bright modern places of work within very tight timelines, signifies a different aspect of construction — when the necessity arose utilising and re-formatting an existing structure rather than new build or flattening the warehouses and starting again, they’re achievements I’m proud of. Also, though not project specific whilst taking on new Clients retaining existing Clients with whom I have built relationships and worked with over a number of years, over a decade in some instances. The fact that US multinationals when they are looking for an office or to expand their existing operation, repeatedly engage you, speaks for itself.

Greatest achievement?

Put simply, it’s getting to the position I’m in now.  Project Management is not for the faint hearted, having the sole responsibility for steering design and construction teams together and seeing a project through from concept to completion takes hard work and tenacity.

Is there potential for travel and networking in your job?

Yes, many of my Clients are based on the west coast of the US and because I am delivering projects for them it’s very important to understand their needs. Visiting them in their offices, seeing their facilities first hand and working with them to develop and deliver a brief makes it necessary to travel. KMCS Ltd. also does a lot of work in mainland Europe and England so there is quite a lot of opportunity for travel.  In a Project Management role, you interact with such a large variance of people you are networking on a daily basis and of course everything is global now. Networking is crucial to delivering for Clients in today’s market no one can afford not to.

What would your advice be to young women who are considering this as a career?

I would say to them, consider all of your options. Construction is not just architecture/engineering or QS, there is so much more. You will need to do the basics in college and then branch out. Those of us currently in the industry have a duty to those coming behind us to ensure that the door is open a little bit wider for women getting into the industry. So pick up the phone and call us, ask for advice ‘how do I get to do what you do?’, ‘what are you looking for in a graduate?’. You don’t have to go the straightforward route. I didn’t walk straight into Bolton St or UCD or DCU but you can still get places. It’s just called the scenic route and maybe you’re better for it. People appreciate hard work and if you are willing to put in the hours, the sky is the limit.   In my role no day is ever the same, clients are very appreciative when you deliver a project.

What does your average day entail?

Varied would be the word. I have contractual hours like everyone else but I don’t stick to them — you can’t when you are managing a project as it is a moving machine and at times decisions or direction just need to be given. I’m lucky enough that I’ve found a job that I very much enjoy so it’s not a chore to take a call at 8am or 8pm or go to site early in the morning or late at night on the way to or from the office. You might carry on your day and wrap up at 7pm or 8pm and then take a call from the US at 10pm, from the comfort of your own home. I’m lucky enough that there is flexibility with the hours, it is definitely not 9-5 but there is give and take as we know the hours will be put in when required. The days can be long but the satisfaction of completing a project far outweighs the sacrifices you’ve made to get there.

What hobbies do you have/ what do you do to relax?

The word frequently used is workaholic! When you get into a project, it rarely leaves your mind even in the evenings and weekends. As a Project Manager the book stops with your, you must deliver and to do so takes commitment usually 24/7. However, after a number of years, I have learned that on a 2-week holiday it’s not necessary to check your email constantly (a feat in the past I have managed whilst on skis). In my world teamwork and delegation is critical and with planning should an emergency occur you will be notified and you can deal with it. I work with an excellent team and we tag each other during holiday season. Relaxation is important for all of us, as it enables us to view things with a difference perspective; I’m a firm believer in the old adage ‘sleep on it’. Personally, I love horseracing so anyone who knows me knows there are certain times in the year I’ll be located on the Curragh, Leopardstown or in Galway. The phone is usually in the hand with a glass of something cold on those days

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