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Career progress with Workman 5th January 2022

Name: James Ainsworth, Partner

Current role and team: As the lead partner for the Manchester office Building Consultancy team, I am also the Regional Northern Lead for Venture Project Management, Workman’s expert project management team. I am a specialist in retail project management.

Joined Workman: 1996

With almost a quarter of the current partners having begun their careers on the company’s Graduate Scheme, in what way did it prepare you for your career in property and your role as a Partner?

I gained fantastic experience on a wide variety of instructions, largely by shadowing Richard Cooper and Steven Rodd (the only two Building Surveyors in Manchester at that time) for the first 12 months. This helped me gain technical knowledge and first-hand experience of how to manage a team and meetings.

What did it teach you in terms of technical knowledge and softer skills?

In terms of gaining technical knowledge, shadowing really helped as I’d also write up the report, which could then be compared with those of the senior surveyors  on the same instruction. It was invaluable to be able to watch the other Surveyors  softer skills too, in order to develop my own style to adapt to a range of situations.

Were there any memorable projects or properties you worked on that you now look back on as invaluable experience?

These range from Arndale House in Bradford, where during air-con upgrade works, I had my first involvement with significant asbestos removal, to managing the logistics of glazed-roof replacements above live shopping centres at both Highcross, Leicester and Queensgate, Peterborough.

I gained lots of experience of devising logistical and buildability solutions under challenging circumstances, as well as technical knowledge on glazing. The new build market and retail units at Eccles Shopping Centre in the late 1990s provided my first exposure to AFL’s and the mechanisms contained within relating to Landlords enabling works projects.

Over the years I have also gained expertise in procurement methods, contractual arrangements, and the legal process following a main contractor going into administration.

How has the Workman Graduate Scheme evolved since you were a participant?

When I started, the Graduate Scheme was in its infancy and a much less formal programme.  Today, the structure and formal training included in the Graduate Scheme ensures the grads get all the support and training and variety they require.

During the work in graduate scheme, you were assigned a Partner, Senior Associate or Associate mentor to coach and develop you; what single thing did they teach you that’s been most valuable in your career so far?

The main thing is to chase people down, don’t presume they’ll hit a deadline. It’s important to be on their case and make sure things happen.

Now in your role as a Partner, when mentoring younger staff, what do you think are the most important aspects of coaching and developing younger staff in your team?

To enjoy it, don’t get too stressed. Don’t get in a position where you can’t see the wood for the trees. Try to simplify rather than over-complicate projects.

What advice would you give to our graduates just starting now, in today’s unique circumstances?

To be focussed and organised on the APC to ensure they get qualified as soon as possible, and then they can start climbing the corporate ladder. To make sure they get a good variety of experience across all areas of building surveying.

What one attribute do you look for when recruiting graduates / junior staff?

Good positive attitude and a friendly manner, ideally with reasonable technical knowledge, although that is not essential in the first instance. If someone is willing to work hard with a pleasant approach, then they’ll fit into the team and do well.