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News: From Apprentice to Director: CoTrain interviews Russell Miller, Willmott Dixon

08 May 2019

CoTrain talks to Russell Miller, Director of Operations at Willmott Dixon about his career journey from apprentice to Director

CoTrain interviewed Russell Miller, Operations Director at Willmott Dixon, about his career journey since leaving school. 

Starting out as a Chain Boy, Russell worked hard to build up his experience, eventually moving up to the role of Operations Director. He shares his career journey with us.


How did you start in the construction industry? 

I left 6th form college and did not know what I wanted to do at age 17. I started working with my dad (painting and decorating) for the summer and took 1 day off a week to go to the careers office in town, my only brief to my Careers Advisor was that I did not want to work indoors in an office. I was subsequently offered an interview for the role of Chain Boy (engineers assistant) on a small housing site in my local town and went to the interview in the site office. 

By the time I had walked home they were on the phone to my Mum asking me to call back to offer me the job. I immediately accepted as it looked like it would be fun and I was told that if I showed promise there was a chance that I could be taken on as a Trainee Site engineer. When I started I was told that they offered me the job quickly as I was the only one that they interviewed that seemed interested, asked questions and wore a tie!

Did you have any careers advice?

My main careers advice was from my Dad and that was to find a job I enjoyed and to get trained in something so that I had proper qualifications and a ‘trade’. This , he said, would set me up for life!

What was your first role? 

My first role was as a Chain Boy, or engineers assistant, on a small housing site. I loved it because there was always something to do and to learn. If the engineer didn’t need me I would go and help the tradesmen on site. I also found that there was great camaraderie amongst the people on site and while the work was hard it was always fun and challenging.

I was also fortunate that the engineer I worked with took a great interest in me and taught me how to use all of the instruments and how to read drawings, I was soon setting out for the tradesmen on site and felt like I was a useful and productive member of the site team.

After 6 months or so I was taken onto the trainee scheme and started to attend college on a part-time (1 day a week) basis. I also found this to be fascinating. While I did not particularly enjoy learning at school, at Technical College I could relate what I was learning to what I was doing at work. I studied hard and got very good grades in all of my subjects and after four years of college achieved an ONC and HNC in Building studies.

What were some of your early challenges?

Although I enjoyed site engineering, my real interest was in site management and leadership. I moved from site engineer to Assistant Site Manager and then over the years worked my way up to Senior Build Manager (SBM). However my ambition was to run my own projects, I wanted the responsibility and the challenge of being the project leader. I found that the jump from SBM to Construction Manager was difficult as the company I was working for at the time were working on very large value projects and there was little opportunity become a project lead on a multi-million pound project when I was relatively young and did not have a track record.

Eventually I had to change companies to achieve my ambition and was given the role of Construction Manager on a large ASDA supermarket. I worked very hard and put into practice everything I had learnt in the preceding years. I learnt a lot, quite often the hard way, but persevered and delivered the project on time and budget with a very happy customer.

Did you ever feel like leaving the industry? 

Never. From my first day on site I loved the industry. No two days are the same, success is based on teamwork and leadership, there is a clear career path, and the opportunities are extremely diverse.

What has been your career route to director at Willmott Dixon?

I moved from trainee to site engineering and into site management and then worked at every level of management up to Construction Manager. I then ran projects as a Construction Manager for about 10 years with the projects getting more complex and larger in value as I got more experienced. I started with Willmott Dixon 11 years ago as an Operations Manager which means that I was responsible for a number of projects. I was promoted onto the Board as an Operations Director after 4 years with WD.

Can you share a career high point?

There have been many, from setting out my first house on my own, to taking charge of a £12m project to being promoted onto the Board as a Director of a company that I feel proud and honoured to work for.

Anything else you may wish to add?

My advice to anyone starting a career in Construction would be that this is an industry full of opportunity for all, both male and female. There are numerous roles that will challenge and interest you, giving you the opportunity to develop as a professional and a person. Approach every day with an open mind and learn from both your successes and your failures. This is an industry where anyone with the right attitude, a teamwork mentality and a good work ethic can succeed and enjoy an interesting, rewarding and diverse career.


For more information about Willmott Dixon

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