Behind the job - Mark Shield, Construction Project Manager

  • 21st October 2020

Tell us about you and your job

For nearly two decades I’ve worked as a project manager for major construction and development companies. I work all over the North East of England, on construction projects ranging from £1million to £30million. Over the years I’ve managed the building of schools and community centres, cultural and sporting venues, retail outlets and accommodation. I love seeing buildings progress from a creative idea on paper to a building site, to a fully functioning development filled with people. It’s very rewarding when you show a happy client around their new space at the end of a project.

What key skills do you need as a project manager?

Organisation and communication are vital. You’re essentially managing lots of people on-site who are experts in their field. You put your trust in them to deliver for you, but because there are so many variables on construction projects, you have to make sure that you communicate well with them, so they can do their job. You’re constantly planning and thinking about the flow of work; the materials you need, timings and budgets, the supply chain, the sub-contracting skills required and the knock-on effects for various people if plans change. It’s a bit like conducting an orchestra, ensuring everyone is playing their part to the best of their ability based on the clarity of your communication.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m usually the first on-site. It’s good to look around while things are quiet at the start of a day, to assess progress and check the work. It helps with planning what’s next. Often, I’ll be meeting with my quantity surveyor to discuss packages of work; who do we need to get onto site next, looking at specifications and thinking about upcoming phases of work. I might also be catching up with contractors to check progress. I regularly prepare reports for internal use and to share with clients so they can see what is happening on the project. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about a career as a project manager?

A degree in a subject like Building Project Management does help and I read books, articles and papers to continually improve. University gives you the theory but that is cemented by real-life experience. Get on-site and be a sponge, soaking up everything you can. Get the experience on the ground - in a role such as a trainee or assistant site manager - and listen to the experts who surround you. If you can, experience some of the trades for yourself early in your career, because you’ll get a great idea of what is required and the expertise of each different specialist on-site. 

Are there any projects that stand out to you? 

It wasn’t the biggest job I’ve worked on, but one that sticks in my mind is a teaching facility for Teesside University at its Darlington Campus. It was a beautiful looking building, lots of glass with a brick fin that came across the roof. I remember walking around it at the end, seeing it translated into this wonderful building from the initial designs. 

How has the industry changed since you started? 

Technology has come a long way and made my job much easier. Our builders and managers often have iPads out on site now and this means that if revisions have been made to the building's plans, they can quickly and easily check them, with everyone working to the same plan in real-time. It also means that we can keep people on-site and working because they’re not having to go back to the office to check things on a desktop. We can also sign off work permits, and check quality assurance in real-time, and that has led to improved efficiencies. 

The other thing that has improved is health and safety. There’s much more of a paper trail now, checks and balances, and that’s a good thing. We need everyone to go home safe and sound at the end of the day so anything that aids that is a plus. 

Why do you continue to choose Coleman James as your recruitment partner of choice? 

As a contractor working on a project basis, I work with Coleman James to support me to find my next challenge when the building I’m project managing is complete. You get a personal touch with them; you build a relationship and have a familiar face who you get to know and trust. You feel like they care about you and your career and have your best interests at heart. They’re a decent company.