Meet a member: Turner & Townsend’s Gemma Writer MCIOB

4 February 2020

Gemma Writer, senior cost manager infrastructure at Turner & Townsend, on choosing construction over becoming a surgeon and promoting the industry to the next generation.

Tell us a little about your career to date? Why did you choose construction?

From my early teens I always had an interest in the built environment. I loved visiting new cities and admiring the combination of both new and old architecture. I perceived the construction industry to consist of solely builders and architects; I knew no better as none of my family and friends were working in the sector to tell me otherwise.

I trialled work experience when I was 16 in a local architect’s office, which I absolutely loved, and it reinforced my interest. I started to research jobs in the sector and stumbled across quantity surveying which played to my strengths. I pleaded with my school to let me try work experience in the QS role on a Building Schools for the Future Scheme in Derby. I was offered a trainee position – I stepped onto site and never left.

You’re so enthusiastic about the industry: tell us about how you’re promoting it to young people

Being part of the industry is extremely rewarding. From building the skyline consisting of office blocks, hotels and landmarks to providing public services such as hospitals and schools, to constructing infrastructure transport networks for future generations, no matter what type of project you are a part of, you are making a tangible difference to lives in your local area.

“No matter what type of project you are a part of, you are making a tangible difference to lives in your local area.”

Gemma Writer, Turner & Townsend

I am so thankful for my experience to date. I feel the industry has given me so much opportunity – from supporting me to gain two degrees (a BSc in Quantity Surveying and an MSc in Construction Law and Dispute Resolution) while on the job, to building my confidence with different stakeholders, and providing options to learn about and experience projects in a whole host of sectors. Every day is a school day in this industry!

 The industry has a huge part to play in promoting careers, especially taking into account the skills gap the industry is experiencing. I host careers presentations in schools on behalf of the CIOB, and help students with their CVs and interview skills.

I use my annual corporate responsibility day to represent the industry at the Big Bang Fair which celebrates careers in STEM subjects – 62,000 young people attended the event last year. I have also taken up a progression mentoring role with the Prince’s Trust to support young adults into the workplace, education, training or volunteering.  

If you hadn’t picked this industry what else would you have done?

I would have been a surgeon! I spent one summer shadowing a family friend who was a senior anaesthetist at a local hospital. I had the fantastic opportunity of putting on Crocs and scrubs and witnessing meniscus and ACL reconstruction surgery first hand. I still love anything medical, from books on the subject to watching 24hrs in A&E.

What changes would you like to see in the industry?

Aside from a greater industry-led focus on closing the skills gap, I am intrigued by the modular and volumetric offsite construction sector. I would love to see this sector grow and continue to gain momentum, especially on larger scale projects.

How do you spend your spare time?

I like to get out in the fresh air for long walks involving pub stops and good food. I enjoy travel and I love variety, spending my free time doing anything wacky and interesting: recent activities include hovercrafting and alpaca walking. I have also been known to happily gallop around wearing an inflatable unicorn costume!

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