Nicola Coughlin

"You are not limited by being a woman within what is considered a male dominated industry. You are only limited by yourself."

ISG: What does a typical day look like as a divisional technical services director at ISG?
Nicola: A typical day is never normal! Every day is different, and that’s why I enjoy what I do. My day usually starts with a morning review with the delivery team. This can include looking at changes to the design, client changes, construction information from the trades and more. Basically, everything that keeps the project moving forward! It’s also a great chance to brainstorm key issues, discuss customer experience and make sure the team is focused on the critical path. The next focus is then on site – health & safety inspections, progress walk rounds, quality inspections and ensuring we’re hitting the delivery requirements. My day also includes various meetings and workshops to keep the momentum going on a project.

How did you get to where you are now?
At school, I developed an interest in architecture but when an opportunity arose to secure an Indentured Apprenticeship with Matthew Hall (now AMEC), I took it thinking it would be an opportunity to study part time while gaining practical work experience. I soon realised that I actually enjoyed the challenges that mechanical and electrical engineering threw my way, and went on to attain a B.Eng (Hons) Degree in Energy Engineering at South Bank University. While at AMEC, I specialised in engineering design; then in 2000 I changed career, and joined ISG. Joining ISG gave me the opportunity to broaden not only my field of expertise and the size and complexity of projects I could be involved in, but also my area of responsibility. The transition from working with an engineering design consultancy to working with a main contractor came as a shock. My first project was valued at £150 million in the heart of London for a global financial services organisation – and I found I was one of less than a dozen women on a site that typically had 1000+ male operatives working on it each day. At first I was overwhelmed and honestly wondered whether I had made the right decision in moving away from engineering into a more management based role, however I soon learnt from my peers to develop my own style of management. My own personal progression has allowed me to pass this experience on to others and hopefully has enabled them to trust their own skills so that we can develop the next generation.

Now that you’ve made the move to construction, what are some of the benefits of working in the industry?
Every project means a new set of challenges and a different group of people to work with. This means that you are always being challenged, which is a great part of our Industry. We get to effectively partner new and existing clients on some of the most challenging and exciting projects to come to the marketplace, and a huge perk is being part of a team that resolves to overcome any issues we’re faced with to deliver high-end commercial buildings for a variety of clients across multiple industries.

How has your career progressed at ISG?
I’ve been with ISG for 17 years, and I’ve been responsible for the design and installation of major projects ranging up to £170 million. I’ve worked on a range of projects, including disaster recovery centres, trading floors and data centres. My experience has given me the chance to progress to my current role as divisional technical services director, and I’m responsible for a team of over 20 technical services managers.

That’s fantastic. Have you faced any challenges since joining or in your career?
I’d say my biggest challenge is being able to influence the general mindset in the construction industry on the importance and relevance of engineering services teams. That being said, this has changed significantly since first joining the industry over 20 years ago.

As a woman in construction, did you have any concerns/reservations about joining the industry?
I am a strong character so I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of the industry. That being said, 20 years ago working in construction wasn’t a career path women were encouraged to take on. In the first few years of my career, I learnt to be resilient, and as my confidence increased and being more confident in my own ability, I’ve been able to succeed. Regardless of whether you are male or female; if you are good at your job you should be treated on merit not on gender. You should also never be afraid to speak-up and should always feel be empowered to contribute. As a woman, I have a responsibility to ensure that more women are encouraged into the industry and supported during their career.

Any advice to women looking to join the industry?
My advice is to always remember that you are not limited by being a woman within what is considered a male dominated industry. You are only limited by yourself - on what you are prepared and willing to achieve. If you want to be a success, you will be.