“Why you should never stop learning” by John Read
John joined Daniel Connal Partnership as a fresh-faced geography graduate back in 2003 and in December 2019 was made a Partner. John wrote a piece in the latest issue of RICS Built Environment Journal (BEJ) talking about his career progression and why you should never stop learning. With the kind permission of the BEJ we’ve reproduced the article here.
Why you should never stop learning
In a profession that is constantly evolving… we need to adapt to be successful. I joined the multidisciplinary consultancy Daniel Connal Partnership in 2003 having graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London with a BSc in geography.
After 14 years of school and 3 at university, most people would be sick of textbooks, studying and exams, but the opposite was true for me. I was primed for learning – eager to discover more about my chosen career, and keen to immerse myself in this new challenge.
The desire to stretch myself and expand my knowledge base has stayed with me throughout my career, and I believe this ability to keep learning is key to the success of any person in any line of work – particularly one that changes and develops as rapidly as the built environment. I spent my first 3 years at Daniel Connal studying on day release for a postgraduate diploma in building surveying at what was then Anglia Polytechnic, now Anglia Ruskin University. I passed the course with a distinction. I subsequently became a chartered surveyor in 2010. In 2015 I was made an associate at Daniel Connal, and in December 2019, I became a partner.
I am also a member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors and an incorporated member of the Association for Project Safety. Peer support I learnt a huge amount from my peers, benefiting enormously from having an experienced group of professionals in one office, led by senior partner Robert Dale; my colleagues have always been willing to offer support and advice. I was also fortunate to join the practice at the same time as Peter Worman, a highly experienced chartered building surveyor under whom I worked for seven years, learning so much from him.
My positive learning experiences have made me very keen to pass on my own knowledge to the next generation. I am proud to say I am now an APC assessor and oversee the APC training process for the whole company. Something that I am particularly keen to instil in every person I mentor is that they should love what they do. It makes hard work much easier.
“I learnt a huge amount from my peers, benefiting enormously from having an experienced group of professionals in one office”
Highlights and heritage
Just because I enjoy my job, does not mean my career path hasn’t been peppered with challenges, though in every job there are highs and lows. My highlights include working with packaging supplier M&H Plastics for 17 years on projects including extensions, conversions, alterations, planning and risk assessments. I’ve enjoyed working, too, with Spectra Packaging, where I oversaw the design of an industrial complex on a greenfield site through the initial phase of 4 industrial units and subsequent expansion. I also spent some time working in London for the partnership on surveys associated with the Crossrail project.
One of the most interesting buildings I have worked on has been Overstrand Hall, a grade II listed manor house in Norfolk originally designed by Edwin Lutyens in the 19th century, where I led the survey, design and contract administration on a repair project.
Over the years, the house has been a weekend retreat, military hospital and convalescent home, and it is now a residential outward-bound activity centre. Initially appointed to carry out a survey of the complex roof structure, the partnership subsequently acted as contract administrator for the necessary repairs – all while the centre remained operational.
As a project it presented its challenges, but working on a Lutyens building is definitely a career high. I’m also involved with another historic property, the grade II listed Carrow Hill House in Norwich. This is a major refurbishment and conversion project, for which Daniel Connal is providing architectural design, planning, contract administration and project management. We used video conferencing to hold regular design team meetings to ensure the project did not stagnate and have now successfully gone out to tender with bids currently being analysed with the aim of starting works in 2021.
Turning to the lows, I had been a building surveyor at the partnership for five years when the 2008 financial crisis hit. It was a hugely testing time, and much of our bread-and-butter surveying work came to a halt. The private housing sector saw a severe decline during the subsequent recession. House price uncertainties and stricter mortgage lending dampened demand and, consequently, building survey enquiries were rare. The industrial and commercial sectors also performed poorly, with ongoing lending constraints and the lacklustre exports leading to manufacturers scaling back investment in new facilities.
Daniel Connal has always looked to offer services across a range of sectors to avoid putting all our eggs in one basket. During the recession, therefore, we still had local authority clients who needed our services and some long-established manufacturing clients who, even during difficult times, were looking to adapt and expand their facilities. Nevertheless, the recession had a significant impact on construction professionals, which resulted in the partnership downsizing and streamlining while retaining core staff. We weathered the financial crash, and since then have expanded and broadened our range of services.
Progressing during the pandemic COVID-19 has pushed everyone into unknown territory again. Projects are on hold, construction sites shut, residential moves halted – a nightmare scenario. But the partnership has withstood the initial lockdown, which saw many contractors shut their sites and furlough staff as they put secure working arrangements in place. Enquiries from clients wanting to discuss the contractual implications of lockdown for their project and the force majeure clause in their JCT contract have peaked, at least for now. Building surveys were tricky for a short time, but we adopted appropriate risk management procedures to ensure that we could continue to serve our clients, and at the moment we are busy and optimistic.
Without computers and mobile phones, the internet and teleconferencing facilities, our ability to continue business would have been severely compromised. It’s hard to believe now, but when I started at the Norwich office in 2003 it was still using a dial-up internet connection. Back then information was much harder to come by: we had a product library cupboard and were filling out JCT contracts by hand. Today’s technology means we can set up office anywhere. We may be in the midst of a pandemic that will have far-reaching consequences across all sectors, but we have overcome challenges before.
We all have an incredible ability to adapt and to evolve – and part of that involves continuing to learn, develop and move forwards.
John Read is a partner at Daniel Connal Partnership working in our Norwich office
With thanks to the editor of Built Environment Journal for permission to reproduce this article on our website. For the latest updates from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and its journals for RICS members, visit: www.rics.org