Kate Wheway

Robertson Partnership Homes

From Royal Marine Musician to Graduate Quantity Surveyor

Kate spent 14 years in the Royal Marines from 2005-2019 as a Musician, playing two instruments, where she performed around the UK and globally, ranging from ceremonial duties as a military band on parade, concert band, orchestra and string quartet. Kate’s secondary role was as a battlefield medic where she carried out activities such as stretcher bearer, ambulance driver; training in decontamination for any nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

A typical concert day for Kate would be a long one; commencing at noon with the loading of their ‘gear’ into the wagon, then travelling to the concert venue which would be an average of 3 hours away by coach. Once at the venue and setup, a sound check and rehearsal before dinner and an hour to relax before concert start at 1930, finishing at 2215, de-rig of the stage and arriving home at around 0200. Dependent on how busy they were, it was often known for them to be back in work for 0530 to then travel for 7 hours to Hull to follow the same routine, travelling back at the end of the concert, to return to Scotland at 0530 – all dependent on their scheduled bookings.

Kate’s core skills she gained whilst serving are:

  • Self-discipline: keeping to a high, professional musical standard.
  • Attention to detail: high standards of turnout were always expected, we had to look after the kit we were given.
  • Integrity and finding a solution for others: when in her later years, Kate was giving younger ranks advice from experience and was trusted with communicating their needs to the hierarchy.
  • Resilience: putting up with unfavourable situations; such as standing on parade in the freezing cold, wet weather, experiencing claustrophobic conditions surrounded by protesters, or working tiring hours but still performing to the best of your ability.
  • Time management: you wouldn’t last long in the Forces if you were constantly late.
  • Adapting to the live situation: working as a team to overcome situations such as fallen tail lifts (a common occurrence) – can’t cancel a show or wait for another lorry to arrive.
  • Motivation: constantly wanting to improve: Kate completed two distance learning degrees whilst working full time, using the time she had whilst travelling to study on the coach. She also learnt to listen to feedback and criticism and strive to improve from it.
  • Independent working: Kate also had office jobs such as running the Band Treasury, where she was trusted to handle money and complete audits, without supervision.

Kate secured her current role as Graduate Quantity Surveyor for Robertson Partnership Homes by using her Enhanced Learning Credits to complete a Postgraduate in Commercial Management and Quantity Surveying with Heriot-Watt University whilst working full time in the Forces, under a distance learning scheme. The whole process took 4 years. Kate had a clear idea and a goal of what she wanted to do which meant her transition to “civvy street” went fairly smoothly. She had a 5-year plan to complete her studies, using her free time to obtain work experience locally to get a feel for the role which also gave her a further understanding for her exams. Kate had planned to join the consultancy where she had undertaken her work experience but due to Brexit, they were unable to offer her a position. It was during her induction with BuildForce when she was asked if she had considered the Contractor QS role, (she hadn’t) which lead her to an interview with Balfour Beatty, followed by a secured Graduate QS position at Robertson’s all in place by the time she was sitting her CTP workshop. Kate would have liked to have seen more of a focus on managerial roles into the construction sector during her resettlement similar to what is offered to those interested in the health and safety route. As a musician/marine, due to not being able to progress up through the ranks,

Kate feels she may not have been seen as someone who had leadership experience and if it wasn’t for her specific studying she thinks she wouldn’t have been considered for a managerial role.

Kate’s role beginning as a Graduate, meant assisting the Senior QS in administrative roles and sitting in meetings to gain experience. However, due to a recent resignation, she is now project lead on a small site. Rather than a ‘typical’ day, Kate’s time is split into ‘typical’ weeks:

  • Week 1: preparation of her Cost Validation Report (CVR); monthly numbers check to present to the Directors, showing the monthly movement by completing external and internal valuations and making sure all budgets and costs were reporting correctly.
  • Week 2: presentation of the CVR for the site to the directors; having knowledge and discussing how the numbers have moved, if we are making a loss or a gain etc, forecasting any potential future costs. Followed by a site valuation – walk around the site taking note of progress and compare to payment applications coming in from subbies. Finally, a Client meeting, reporting progress with the site team to those who are paying us for building the houses.
  • Week 3: mainly processing payment applications, analysing up to 30 trades, deciding whether the request for pay matches the work completed. Some applications take longer to analyse, dependent on the stage of the project.
  • Week 4: Processing outstanding payment applications, administering sub-contract orders that need to go out or tender invitations, site meetings, and further administration that needs to be completed.

Key skills such as communication, integrity, resilience, self-motivation and drive, time management, adapting to the live situation and performing to the best of your ability are all transferable skills Kate has gained during her military career and is now applying them daily to her role as a QS.

When asked what advice Kate would give to someone looking to transition from the Armed Forces to a career in construction, she replied:

“It’s a refreshing change from the mob, but there are some similarities. Every day is different in the construction industry, sometimes you will have a plan for the day, but you can easily be side-tracked by something your boss asks you for that they needed yesterday. It’s a
challenging industry, but if that’s what you are looking for then it will suit you well. If you want to progress, there are many opportunities, you have to grasp them with both hands. If you work on site, those you work with are your family for the next 1-2 years.”

And the three words, Kate would use to describe the construction sector: “challenging, rewarding and opportunistic,” followed by “dedicated, resilient and adaptable” to describe an ex-military person to a construction employer.