The Construction Industry Training Board’s Mark Piggott writes about Apprentice of the Year Jessica Lea’s development and training with the Murphy Group.

23-year-old Jessica Lea from St Helens, Merseyside has a message for any other young women who would like to join the UK construction industry: “Go for it!”

Jessica, who enjoyed business studies and performing arts at school, said she loves the variety and job satisfaction she gets as an assistant engineer with the Murphy Group, and is thriving in what has traditionally been seen as a male-dominated industry. 

“I get along well with my male colleagues,” says Jessica, speaking by phone from the University of Bolton, where she is also studying for a degree one day a week. “There are actually a lot of women joining the industry now and the work is really varied. At the moment, I’m working on projects all over the country, as well as studying. In fact, the only problem I have is a lack of free time!”

Apprenticeships – the best route for many people

Jessica is already building up an impressive CV. However, she advises other women hoping to go into the industry to consider an apprenticeship.

“The apprenticeship route was definitely the best for me,” says Jessica. Before she started full-time work, she took a BTEC qualification in Civil Engineering at Wigan and Leigh College.

Jessica has already won a number of awards for her efforts, most recently being named Apprentice of the Year for the Northwest by the Construction Industry Training Board. 

New Opportunities

Her experience shows how the construction industry is diversifying to attract new entrants. There are increasing opportunities for people from non-traditional backgrounds to join construction because:

  • 150,000 new jobs are expected to be created over the next five years
  • older workers are facing retirement
  • emerging changes in policies around inward migration to the UK may reduce access to suitably skilled workers. 

The industry itself is becoming more high-tech and modernising, with countless opportunities for career progression.

Jessica’s skills are so much in demand she sometimes works night shifts, though she is quick to emphasise that her employer supplies engineers with transport so they can safely travel to and from site. This year, she has also chosen to work right through Christmas.

Jessica expects to complete her degree in 2023 and become a fully qualified engineer – after which the sky’s the limit. “When I’m qualified, I’d love to become a pipe engineer or go into construction management,” she says. “Construction has long been seen as a male-dominated industry but that’s all changing now.”