For the 25-year-old from Manchester has battled with severe dyslexia all her life.
In no way is she defined, or indeed limited, by her dyslexia. She’s never allowed herself to be, despite having the reading and writing skills of an average 11-year-old child. No favours or special measures are required. Most people who work with her never become aware of her condition.
And why would they? Their lively, life-affirming colleague possesses a first-class degree in Construction Project Management from Salford University and holds down a demanding role as Assistant Bid Manager in Balfour Beatty’s Power and Renewable Energy team. She is highly regarded by the company, and has strong ambitions to progress to Bid Manager and beyond.
Yet The Duke of Gloucester’s Young Achievers Scheme judges were impressed by more than just Harriet’s determination not to be thwarted by dyslexia when going about the complex business of project management. What also struck them was her genuine and caring interest in bringing young people with difficult backgrounds into the construction industry. A project in the West Midlands where she worked side by side with local youngsters to build a new youth centre provides one striking example of her commitment to helping the disadvantaged. As she explains: “It was one of the first projects I worked on after I joined Balfour Beatty and part of a building schools for the future contract. We were given some funding to help get young people off the streets and give them more to do. We had a completely blank sheet of paper, and we came up with a state of art facility to replace their old, rather boring centre.
“I was Assistant Design Manager, and we got together with the youngsters to create the kind of facilities they wanted such as BMX tracks and climbing walls. It took us 12 months, and it was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done.”
Mentoring is another youth involvement of Harriet’s that marks her out from the ordinary. “I mentor an 18-year-old who has the same difficulties as me. I started working with him and his Mum when he was doing his A-levels. He was at his wits’ end and was about to give up. I was able to give him the benefit of my experience, and also get him some work on a construction site, which was something he could really relate to. It really helped him and although he didn’t continue in the construction industry, he’s now doing on the job training to be a fire fighter.”
Balfour Beatty has a fine reputation for helping youngsters find their way in the world, and it was through the encouragement of some of her colleagues that Harriet really started to blossom.
Originally, she had joined the company straight after A-levels, which although very good fell short of the results she felt her hard work would achieve. Deeply disappointed and lacking in confidence, she turned her back on university, believing that academic life was not for her and joined Balfour Beatty in an administration role.
At that stage, construction was not a career that had ever occurred to her. “I was looking to go into childcare, that’s where I did my work experience” she says.
“But what persuaded me to try for a job at Balfour Beatty was the way they developed their staff, in a very structured programme.”
After four months of admin duties, Harriet’s interest in construction began to grow, and her manager sent her on various site visits and involved her in the bidding process.
She was quickly hooked, and asked if she could learn some construction skills, preferably on the project management side. Her manager, David Roberts, encouraged her to sign up for a five-year degree course at Salford University, with a day release to attend college every week. Throughout her time there, the company organised placements that linked to her degree. “That was so helpful, as I find it much easier to learn if I can do things rather than just study them.”
It still required much hard work on Harriet’s part, but not only did she gain her first-class degree in Construction Project Management, she also completed her NVQ3 in Built Environment Design, achieving this three weeks ahead of schedule. It was a thrilling moment.
As was entering and winning a Duke of Gloucester’s Young Achievers Scheme award earlier this year. “I am extremely proud to have received this award,” she says. “Having started six and a half years ago in an administration role with no construction knowledge or background, I am now bid-managing my own projects. This could not have been possible without the ongoing support of Balfour Beatty and the brilliant people within it.”
Naturally, Balfour Beatty is proud of her outstanding progress. Says Rob Morris, Balfour Beatty Managing Director, Power: “The Duke of Gloucester’s Young Achievers Scheme is an opportunity for exceptional young professionals to be commended and celebrated for their achievements. I am delighted that Harriet has been recognised in this way and we will be doing everything we can to ensure we support Harriet and young people like her with their careers in construction.”
Construction Youth Trust will also be helping Harriet, providing her with a senior mentor to offer advice and guidance. And Harriet is now a Trust Ambassador, a role she is relishing.
“I am really looking forward to promoting the fantastic work of Construction Youth Trust, particularly in encouraging young people who are unsure of their options when leaving school.”