Construction contracts managers oversee projects from the start through to completion, ensuring that work is completed on time and within its budget. As a contracts manager, you could be working on a wide variety of projects, from office developments to houses or schools and colleges to road and rail schemes.
A contracts manager is sometimes in charge of a single scheme, or may look after several smaller ones. At all times, they are the first point of contact for members of the public, clients, site managers and sub-contractors for as long as the contract lasts.
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Health and safety issues will be a top priority in this role, as will managing client expectations.
You could see yourself negotiating sub-contract orders and monitoring sub-contractors, planning critical dates, or organising labour. You would also be responsible for agreeing extra work to be done on a contract, helping to resolve any disputes which come up, and identifying areas for improvement in your company’s contracting processes.
It’s this variety which many construction managers love about their job. Mike George, a Contracts Manager at Kier Build, says: “I’ve been in construction over 40 years, and wouldn’t have chosen any other career. Every day is different, and you’re always learning.”
Gary Whittle is a contracts manager at Mansell, part of the Balfour Beatty Group, and has been in the industry some 28 years. He currently oversees contracts for three special needs schools, a nursery school and a community centre.
He says: “The variety is great. And when you deliver a successful project and have a good end product, it’s very satisfying. It’s a good idea to get as much on site experience as early as possible in your career. You will gain much more respect if you have a good understanding of the realities of life on site from the outset.”
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Professionals in the field made on average from £49,100 to £53,500 in 2008, and from £51,600 to £55,600 in 2009, according to figures from jobs posted on CareerStructure.com.
Hours and environment
Most contracts managers work a typical working week of no more than 40 hours, Monday to Friday. Some employers may offer opportunities for travel.
Your place of work will be split between the office and being on site. You may also have to make regular client visits. Site work can be challenging places –and you will be out in all weathers. Protective clothing is compulsory when on site.
Skills and interests
You will need to understand all aspects of the contracting process, and technical building requirements — plus good commercial sense is a must. Contracts managers need to be able to establish strong working relationships with a wide range of people. So you’ll be a team player – but you also need to be able to use your own initiative and make your own decisions as well.
In common with all areas of management, contracts managers need to be well-organised and capable of meeting deadlines. Good maths and IT skills will also help.
Gary Whittle adds: “It also helps if you can base decisions on fact. You can’t let your emotions stand in the way.”
No one would pretend that the construction industry wasn't affected by the recession. But talent, hard work and perseverance will always be recognised, and construction remains the UK’s largest industry. Having a strong CV is more important than ever.
Kier Wallis project manager Andy Lee has been with the company for nine years and is currently managing a £3.5-million hotel refurbishment in central London. He says:
“My experience is that in the last half of 2009, employment agencies were offering us staff for placement, but recently it seems a smaller number of employment agencies are trying to fill vacancies.
“Public sector work has been keeping the industry afloat. Staff have been kept on and new employees recruited to fill roles within these contracts. Though the larger private sector work has not been as abundant, the recession seems to have encouraged smaller private works to be carried out, which has still provided job opportunities.
“Companies have continued to recruit graduates and apprentices so when the industry fully recovers there will be abundance of trained personnel.”
Some industry experience will probably be needed at this level. But you may also be able to get work as a contracts manager if you have project management experience in another industry. Some contracts managers start as contracts assistants or administrators and get promoted after they’ve gained enough experience.
College courses, for example, a BTEC, HNC or HND or degree in a building-related subject, may help you secure a place on a training programme, either as a contracts assistant or construction manager. Choose a course which covers contracts and contract law.
Training and advancement
Many companies offer their own in-house training schemes so that you acquire all the skills you need before becoming a contracts manager. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) offers a broad selection of professional training programmes, including its Graduate Diploma Programme, and it also supports work-based NVQs.
For their next move, particularly ambitious contracts managers may want to think about going into operations management, or even eventually becoming a company director. Consultancy or specialising in support services such as health and safety inspection could be other options.
Kier Build’s Mike George says: “Be open and honest with people, learn and listen and usually your line manager will have you working in a role that gets you to the next step. Think through a long term plan on what you want to achieve in your career and what level of responsibility you aspire to. Be prepared to work from a lower position and gain knowledge to get a broad base that you can build on. As they say, you can’t build on shaky ground!”
Contracts management embraces such a wide range of issues that learning should never stop.
Central and local government departments, utility firms and others all offer opportunities. Companies including Balfour Beatty, Amey, Atikins, Kier, Skanskia, Ringway and Colas, among many others, all employ contracts managers.
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