‘I always had the vision that I wanted to go into project management,’ said Mel Gibson – a senior project manager at telent, who joined the business five years ago through the company’s graduate trainee scheme.
An enthusiastic traveller, Mel has explored Vietnam, Cambodia and Gambia in recent years. Looking at the 33-year- old’s progression through telent, this tendency to take the path less travelled appears both personal and professional.
Graduating with a degree in French and German from the University of Manchester in 2005, Mel went to work in European shipping. ‘I enjoyed my job but it was relatively limited in terms of career progression,’ said Mel.
Seeing no future where she was, Mel left and moved to Warwick to be close to friends. By chance, she spotted a recruitment ad online for a bid support trainee at telent. She applied and got it.
PATH LESS TRAVELLED
Originally from Lincolnshire, Mel arrived at telent’s Haywood Road offices as one of three new graduates. ‘It was a completely new role and in that respect it was quite challenging,’ said Mel. ‘I quite like that. If you’re completely new to something just leap in and give it a go. I seem to have done that quite a lot at telent and you are always supported.’
Starting out as a trainee, Mel was soon promoted to junior bid manager, then bid manager for the well-publicised RETB telecomms renewal programme in the Scottish Highlands. ‘That’s when I asked the business, ‘look I’ve bid this, really enjoyed it, can I go and deliver it’,’ said Mel. Management listened and appointed her as project manager.
It’s a move she’s glad she made. ‘It varies completely every single day. That’s what I really enjoy about my job now. One day you might be up in Glasgow meeting the customer, you might be going out to site, you might have suppliers coming in to see you, you might have a weekly team meeting. It varies every single day.’
Mel, one of the youngest female senior project managers within telent, said she feels fortunate to work for a company that has supported her in pursuing an unconventional path through the business, and she believes that the current intake of graduates will be offered the same opportunities.
‘The scheme that they’re on now is fantastic,’ said Mel. This September, telent will welcome 20 graduates. ‘We’re about to have our biggest grad intake this year. We’ve got an engineering scheme and a project management scheme. I work with some of the current grads and a member of my team has just completed the project management scheme. You really get a lot from it.’
Applicants spend the day at telent’s assessment centre where they have to complete a team exercise and a presentation. ‘It’s quite a demanding day,’ said Mel, who recently represented telent at a graduate recruitment fair at Coventry University.
In some cases additional places have been created for candidates who are too good to send away. ‘There’s a few people that’s happened to,’ said Mel. ‘I think that’s really important. We’ve gone through that process with people. We’ve recognised we’ve got someone who’s really good who wants to work with us. Let’s not miss this opportunity. Let’s find a place for them within telent, and it’s worked.’
Following completion of the two-year programme, graduates come away with a project management qualification accredited by the Association for Project Management (APM). New graduate trainees are paired up with both a mentor at management level and a ‘buddy’ at peer level. Mel feels there is now a strong graduate community within telent equipped to support new starters as they progress.
‘The amount of people that are 30 and younger is rapidly increasing compared to just five years ago when I started here. That feels quite exciting.
‘I’m all about getting more women into the industry as well. I think it’s quite a heavily male- dominated industry. We’ve got a really good female project manager grad on our team, and I think it’s all about making it a bit more appealing to women.’
Does she see more women joining the industry than when she started? ‘It’s very gradual, but I would say in the next 5 to 10 years, you’ll really be able to see the change.’
TALENTED NEXT GENERATION
With RETB now coming to an end, Mel is looking forward to getting the opportunity to take on another big project. ‘What I’d like to do is keep refining my skillset; develop my leadership skills.’
Since joining telent, Mel says she has been given a number of opportunities to train and develop. It’s benefited her own career, but she also recognises how important it is to the company if it is to retain its talented next generation.
‘It’s about recognising people, supporting them, giving them the training they need and giving them an environment that they’re going to want to stay in.
‘I feel that I’ve definitely got a future at telent. I’ve never ever felt like I’ve stagnated. Sometimes, if anything, it’s been more ‘wow, is this challenge too big for me,’ then you always have that support to back you up.’
A WORD OF ADVICE
How does Mel feel about the rail industry? ‘I’ve certainly got a lot from it and learnt a lot from it. It’s serving UK infrastructure without which millions of people would not have a means of getting to or from work. It supports the UK.’
In order to support the UK, the railway is an unsociable, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week industry. Rarely does Mel do a typical nine-to-five day. ‘It’s the nature of the role,’ she says. ‘You’ve got to be flexible. Some days you do work very long hours, sometimes it’s very early mornings. You have to have that flexibility as a project manager. You’ve got to be a flexible person, full stop.’
Away from the office, Mel likes to spin; she’s a ‘bit of a spinning class addict’. But there’s always a temptation to check work e-mails or just quickly take that call. ‘I try and be more controlled on e-mail at the weekend because otherwise you just never stop looking at your work phone.
‘Quite often if you’ve got weekend works going on, there’s constantly something happening every day of the week. You could just keep working, working, working.
‘I really value my time off because it’s quite a demanding job, so I think you really need to appreciate and enjoy your time.’
What would Mel say to university leavers? ‘Something I often say to people is don’t be deterred that you don’t have a technical background going into the rail industry.
‘Don’t be deterred by that because I think sometimes that can be a benefit. Often as a non-engineer you can bring a slightly different approach, a slightly different skillset that complements an engineering-led organisation. I certainly don’t feel that it’s held me back at all.’