Last year, in this article, Westbury Property Maintenance Ltd trading as Westbury FM MD Sonia Murton shared her story, candid insights, and journey since founding a thriving start-up in the UK construction and Facilities Management space in 2017.
Since that interview, Sonia has been recognised as one of the ‘Top 100 Most Influential Women in Construction 2022.‘, has organically grown the Westbury FM business significantly and reflects on the challenges of the shortages of skilled trades. One year on, as we celebrated International Women’s Day during Women in Construction Week, we caught up with Sonia again.
How did you get into Construction?
I came into Construction from a Commercial interior design background, mainly hospitality. I took a position with a fit-out firm in south London and ended up supporting them in the small works and maintenance division; I thought it was brilliant! It combined the constant need for problem-solving and tackling issues with emergencies, and every problem you could think of came onto my desk. This gave me a much broader understanding of all aspects of Construction.
It’s not all been plain sailing, and it’s been tough at times, regardless of gender. There have been occasions where I have worked in the pouring rain and the heat when I have been onsite sweating and covered in mud or a dusty warehouse or on the roof or a cellar covered in spiders. Still, when I see the finished work, it’s really rewarding to think I have got this job over the line within budget and overcome issues that occur.
You were listed as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Construction 2022 by the NFB. How did that come about?
When I set up Westbury in 2017, I didn’t have all the answers, but I had a vision and belief that I could build a business offering the same services as a large company but with a bespoke service and a personal touch that cares about the clients, where one size does not fit all.
I found this the building services industry comprised large companies tying everyone into national contracts and not delivering. I strongly believe that regional operators are the way forward for a 100% guaranteed service.
I am incredibly grateful to be showcased amongst so many inspiring women across the construction sector. So many women are doing brilliant construction jobs and making a real difference. We are committed to supporting female professionals in our sector and promoting gender equality in the workplace. We will continue to open doors and provide equal opportunities for all our employees, regardless of gender. We believe a diverse workforce is essential to building a thriving workplace environment. Together we can make a positive impact on the future of Construction!
What are the challenges that face women in the construction industry?
There has been a massive shift over the last few years, and it’s all very positive now. It’s an amazing industry l would love to be 21 again, coming into Construction with so many opportunities!
I would love any female to knock on my door and say I want to be a trainee electrician. That would be amazing. Women have an integral part to play in the workplace, especially in a predominantly male-dominated sector.
They bring unique perspectives, skills, and experience to the table that can offer tremendous value to companies. Companies should actively seek qualified female candidates for all positions, including leadership roles.
Additionally, it is essential to create a workplace culture that supports women and encourages them to pursue their professional goals. The challenge is that when people think of a career in Construction, they may think of a bricklayer, an electrician, a roofer or a carpenter and assume that manual labour isn’t a typical job for a woman. There are many jobs besides those skilled trades in Construction; Architects, Building Surveyors, Site Administrators, Project Managers, Cost Managers, and Operations Managers.
The list is endless, so we strive to create an equitable working environment where every individual’s unique set of skills is respected and celebrated. We should work together to make our industry more inclusive and ensure all voices are heard. Our goal is to provide a safe, welcoming environment for everyone in the construction sector, regardless of gender or background. We will continue striving for equality in the workplace and creating opportunities for everyone.
There are acute shortages in some skilled trades despite the strong construction demand overall. How has Westbury been affected?
Recruitment is still one of our significant challenges, supply and demand has been hard for the last few years; as an employer, you need to show positive brand culture and understand your competition. You must also pay well with good career growth and a structured training programme, demonstrate an engaging onboarding process, and attract the right individuals.
With these challenges, we’ve had to adopt the approach of growing and developing our own. In the last 12 months, we’ve engaged more with apprenticeships and cross-training where possible.
For example, we’ve taken on a trainee electrician who used to work in IT. Someone with a logical brain who used to be a programmer with excellent problem-solving skills is an ideal candidate to cross-train and bring them up in our team of electricians. Another example is someone who used to work as a security guard. He’s previously funded himself to get into electrical. And now we are employing him and financing the rest of his last year. From there, we will take him on as an electrical mate whilst he builds up his knowledge of working in a live environment.
We have 5 apprenticeships running at the moment, all in a training programme, we pay them well so they feel appreciated and it shows we care. We are always looking to attract suitable candidates and are actively nurturing a candidate pipeline. 👉🏼 DM me, Sonia Murton.