Between being the Senior Cost Consultant at Mace, Director of APC Support Limited, and a mother of two, Sonia Desloges has a busy life. Here, she shares the story of how she became a surveyor and why she decided to give back to the next generation with APC Support.
What attracted you to the property industry?
My parents designed and self-built a couple of houses so I lived on a building site for a few years. I was fascinated to see how their ideas were slowly taking shape and I initially considered becoming an architect or a civil engineer.
However I was living in France and at the time, architecture studies were prohibitively expensive and engineering studies were not open to girls (and that was in the 90's). After reluctantly completing a BSc Business Management and a Post Graduate degree in Supply Chain Management, I decided to become a construction site manager but French recruiters did not take me seriously.
I impulsively moved to the UK and immediately found a job as a general labourer for a property developer and one opportunity leading to another, I went back to university to complete my BSc Quantity Surveying on a day release and never stopped progressing in my career, ultimately creating my own company last year.
What is a working day like for you? How do you split your time between Mace and APC Support?
There is no real typical working day as I have to juggle two jobs while spending time with my two young daughters and try to have a life of my own!
Mace are an invaluable support in making it possible. I start at 9.30am which allows me to take my daughters to school in the morning. From 9.30am to 6pm, I am dedicated to my projects work at Mace, although I do catch up on social media and APC Support's e-mails over lunch.
At early stages, I spend most of my time in design meetings and pricing design options to achieve best value. Once projects are on site, I visit the site regularly, keep track of the value of the works done to date and manage the cost of design changes or unforeseen events. In some projects, I can be named as contract administrator, and I have a more hands-on approach having to advise my client on a broader range of topics.
I am also supporting 11 APC candidates in Project Management and Quantity Surveying from Mace in our Leeds and Manchester offices, which involves many one-to-one meetings.Depending on my daughters' extra curriculum activities, I may stay later in the office to focus on APC Support Ltd, or work from home. Spring and Autumn are very busy period for my side business and nights can be very short as I need to review an increasing number of candidates' documents and organise mock APCs with my team. I hold regular APC workshops in small groups in Manchester and Sheffield after work or on Saturdays, and any spare time left is used to publish on my blog 'APC Tips'.
What has been a career highlight/most interesting project so far?
Completing my BSc Quantity Surveying with a First whilst working part-time and giving birth to my first daughter as I started my dissertation was definitely a very proud moment which was only surpassed when I became MRICS a few years later.
In terms of projects, my most rewarding project to date has been the first phase of the Blackpool Talbot Gateway regeneration scheme with Muse Developments. The project took 7 years of development before a spade was put in the ground and seeing the buildings and new highways grow every week was very rewarding. As I was the project surveyor for the highways and infrastructure works, the new council offices and the new Sainsbury's store, I could grasp the bigger picture and really add value to my client.
To add to this, the Blackpool council offices have won many industry awards and I feel extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to work on this scheme.
More recently, I attended the Women in Construction Awards 2016 as a finalist in the Mentor category and this was definitely one of my career highlights to date.
What lessons have you learnt so far in your career?
There have been times when my employers sent me to new directions that did not seem to serve my long-term career plans nor suited my personal interests. But I have learnt that any experience is useful in our industry and that you should also apply yourself to learn new facets of the job and deliver the highest standards of services regardless of the client or project. My years in infrastructure did not seem very stimulating at the time, but I have learnt a lot in construction technology and target cost which I am finding so valuable today.
Another essential lesson I have learnt is the value of networking and personal reputation. Our profession is based on services and people, and I quickly found out that the construction industry is a very small world. Connecting with other professionals is a great way to develop peer-to-peer support, initiate new career or business opportunities, and sometimes to meet like-minded people to inspire the next big idea.
What made you decide to start mentoring APC candidates?
The industry entered recession as I came back to work after my second maternity leave. While I managed to avoid redundancy, I found myself back in a junior role being bounced from one team to another, until one of the associate directors took the initiative to mentor me and support me throughout my APC preparation, a turning point in my career for which I will always be immensely grateful.
Shortly after becoming MRICS, the RICS invited me to volunteer to re-sit my APC to test a number of different formats. The opportunity to influence the future of the APC outweighed the amount of work required and I immediately accepted. I was invited to the RICS head offices in London on a regular basis and made some fantastic connections. I was told about the RICS mentor scheme and decided that it was a good time to give back to the profession.
I met up with other enthusiastic mentors in my area and we decided to organise APC workshops with the support of our local RTA and RICS office. The APC support group eventually became too demanding as volunteers but we wanted to continue our service and so APC Support Limited was born last year.
What tips do you have for anyone applying for a role in surveying?
What really appealed to me in the UK is that life does not have to follow a straight path. Anyone can change career at any time in their life and if they are showing drive and determination, they will find people willing to help them on the way.
Having said that, having direction and a career plan is essential to succeed in surveying. I would recommend people considering a role in surveying to get some work experience to understand the different roles available in the industry. Alternatively, the RICS organise regular networking events which are open to non-members. You should attend them and speak with current surveying professionals to find out what the profession encompasses. Specialist recruitment agencies and universities are also great sources of advice. My best advice would be to speak to as many people as possible because our profession is very diverse and everybody will have a different story to tell.