Interviewing Natalie Coates
Project manager at ISG, Natalie Coates, joined our UK Retail team as a graduate in 2014. Fast forward nearly eight years and Natalie has grown to be one of the business unit’s brightest and most innovative individuals, standing out from the crowd to take home the trophy in the ‘Dream smart’ category at ISG’s 2021 value awards.
Rewarding her hard work and talent even further, Natalie also scooped the ‘Best of the best’ award for UK Retail last year, taking her through to the business’ coveted global value awards ceremony.
Looking at how passionate she is for her work, it’s hard to believe now that Natalie had never even considered a career in construction when she first applied to university. So we sat down with her to learn more about why she was drawn to life in the built environment and what advice she would give to other young women looking to build something special in our industry...
What drew you to the construction industry and more specifically ISG?
I was originally looking for a business based degree when I stumbled across the degree I would eventually possess; BSc. Construction Project Management. I had no background or links to the industry at the time and I think a lot of people around me found it strange that I was considering a career in construction, but there was something about the industry and project management that really interested me.
I decided to take a chance and enrol full time, taking on additional voluntary work within construction consultancies in my spare time to familiarise myself with the built environment and I quickly fell in love with how dynamic and varied this industry is.
At the time of my first interview for ISG I had a couple of alternative job offers, but none of the other companies had the same personal approach. I could tell Chorley was a great place to work and I immediately felt at ease; and the rest, as they say, is history…
What are some of the key things you’ve learnt in your role as project manager?
Since joining the retail business as a graduate in 2016, I’ve had some fantastic opportunities to develop my project management skills across a breadth of projects and key accounts.
As a project manager, I think you need to be very adaptable, as the scope of service and pace of the project can change quite significantly depending on what the client needs.
The variety of businesses we work with means that we’re often presented with unique requirements for delivery. I’ve learnt important lessons on every project I’ve been on; from a day of ATM installs, to two years of Cat A and B office fit out – and everything in between!
What were your first impressions of the industry and how have any of your original thoughts been challenged?
Initially I was a little overwhelmed. This industry presents lots of fast-paced and high-pressure environments, long hours, and the need for an extensive and specialist knowledge base.
Since I first started, I’ve seen a huge shift in my approach to the job itself. Appreciating you will never know it all is key, and this gives opportunity for new challenges and development every day.
This also emphasises the importance of your method as a project manager. It’s imperative that you are able to take a step back and consider how to tackle each situation methodically – always remembering that the people around you are often your most valuable resource.
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
Coming into the industry through an academic route, as opposed to a practical one, the knowledge and experience gap from a trade perspective was my biggest obstacle.
There are some things that will only come with time, experience, and exposure on the ground. Thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to work with some fantastic people over the last seven years, all of which have allowed me to soak up more knowledge and skills along the way.
The industry can be challenging as a young female, as you’re rarely exposed to this type of industry as a child. Understanding the huge spectrum of disciplines and individuals you will liaise with as a project manager is a learning curve. But over time you learn how to tailor yourself to best suit the situation. Not every interaction will be a good one, but there are easily twice as many people that will go out of their way to actively encourage and support you.
What are some of the greatest opportunities for the built environment and where do you hope to see the industry develop?
There is clearly a growing focus on sustainability, not only on enhancing construction performance on site, but also looking at the full building lifecycle; from perception to maintenance and use thereafter.
This is changing the way in which our clients are looking at their projects, and sustainability is increasingly becoming a key part of a successful scheme. On that premise, methods of building are adapting, making the delivery of our projects smarter and more cost effective.
I look forward to seeing how ISG will continue to take major steps in supporting the world’s environmental targets and I hope to see us positioned as a lead contractor in this movement.
If you could give your younger self one piece of career or education advice, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Speak to people in the industry – understand their thoughts, what they wish they’d done differently and what they are thankful for doing in their careers.
In reality, you will never stop learning, and the more you soak up the better! Being able to use the knowledge of those around you is a valuable resource and the relationships you build will serve you for years to come.
Where do you hope to see your career going next?
In the future, I’d like to play a part in helping to develop our Chorley team. Managing changes within the industry, identifying gaps for opportunity and putting steps into motion to ensure we have a strong team who are able to adapt to the shifting demands of the industry and our clients.