A civil structural engineer with more than eight years of residential development expertise, Dinos Papadimitriou brings overseas experience in the residential and commercial sectors to the London-based NestEast, where his role is development manager. He tells about his career path and what he loves about working in housebuilding.
Please tell us about your role and the qualification/training/career path that took you there.
After having run a successful property business in Greece developing villas and small hotels, I joined boutique London developer NestEast, who are based in Hackney. I am the central point leading on the construction of the developments, working with architects, builders, subcontractors and other specialists to support the rest of the NestEast team in delivering our fantastic projects to market.
I studied as a civil engineer, specialising in structural engineering, at NTUA in Athens, Greece (a highly respected university). This gave me a great starting point for entering the property development industry. Following this, the hands-on experience working on real projects, and a master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) at Cass University, allowed me the opportunity to work within London’s construction industry.
In Greece, I started by conducting structural analyses of reinforced concrete buildings and then switched to managerial roles for new housing projects abroad. I then moved to the UK and joined the NestEast team.
What sort of new homes projects have you worked on to date, and what was it about them that you most enjoyed?
In Greece, I mainly worked on residential, mixed-use and tourist/holiday accommodation projects, ranging from detached villas to multi-storey buildings with development values anywhere between £1m and £10m.
With NestEast in Hackney, our current projects include a five-storey new build consisting of 12 residential flats with a commercial unit, and a conversion of a Grade II listed property into six flats.
What is really interesting about building new homes from the ground up is that it’s a very creative and dynamic process by nature, with visual and tangible outcomes. You see the property forming as you deliver the project. Exploring the endless possibilities and potential of a site at the beginning of a project is really enjoyable, but it comes only second to the finished building. Unlike other professions, the end result is a very tangible end product that affects a number of users; homeowners, tenants, commercial occupiers or holidaymakers! I enjoy the fact that my work contributes to creating new places to live and work, especially in an under supplied market.
What work challenges does your role entail, and what gives you most satisfaction to overcome?
Breaking down complex projects into simple components ensuring that interests of all stakeholders are aligned to the shared ultimate outcome is always one of the most challenging tasks a project manager (PM) faces, and the property industry is not an exception.
What differentiates the property industry is the variety of the stakeholders a PM has to work closely with, starting from the workers laying the slabs, to the investors putting in their money, the architects conducting their drawings, and the suppliers promoting their products. Each of these stakeholders communicate in their own ‘’language’’ and have their own interests in the project.
It is important that the PM is able to speak and understand all these different ‘’languages’’ in order to co-ordinate the project efficiently and pave the way for a successful outcome for all stakeholders. Seeing the plans transforming from a drawing on a piece of paper to a tangible asset ready to use is unique. At the end of the day, there is nothing more enjoyable than seeing a project being handed over to the end users and the realisation that you had an often significant role to play in the process.
The current projects we have at NestEast are unique in that one is a Grade II list building and the other is a new build site – both with their own challenges. Seeing the progress little by little on each gives great job satisfaction.
Are there specific professional and personal skills that would make someone especially suited to the new homes sector of structural engineering?
From the professional point of view, I think the breadth of knowledge required throughout all the construction stages, and the ability to deal effectively with teams of very diverse backgrounds – from on-site working teams to sophisticated investors, and design experts to lenders – are two great skills to have.
Apart from those two, being able to spend enough time at the beginning of a project for a detailed plan, while having the necessary flexibility to adapt during the implementation is critical too. In regard to personal skills, I think persistence and patience are both needed to complement and enhance the above.
With the high targets of housebuilding being set, do you think civil structural engineering opportunities in this sector will change much?
If we were all to commit to the targets for the numbers of new homes being delivered, there is no doubt that this would lead to increased demand for civil engineering opportunities. The housebuilding industry is currently facing challenges with an ageing workforce and associated skill shortage. I really feel this industry is extremely dynamic, exciting and with potential for great salaries too, so we all need to commit to re-branding our industry and showcasing what it can offer to potential new entrants.
Apart from this, one should not overlook the fact that the housebuilding market offers opportunities to approximately 200 other professions. A civil engineer is well positioned to switch and assume a plethora of these roles, through the right guidance and accreditation paths.
Do you have any advice for anyone considering housebuilding-related civil structural engineering as a career path?
First of all, for anyone wanting to enter the industry from outside the UK like myself, I would recommend getting practical experience early on and following up with good academic qualifications.
Civil engineering is definitely one of the oldest professions to exist, it’s still evolving and one of the most respected worldwide – and for a very good reason. It provides a solid foundation to either become a specialist in a particular area of interest or become a generalist and assume managerial roles. Also, it is one of the few professions that allows the ability to switch from a specialist to generalist role and vice versa. For example, a structural analyst can easily understand the costs associated with the construction, which is one of the main tasks of a PM. Similarly, a PM with civil engineering background can easily conduct a structural analysis that is technically sound and also cost effective. There are not many professions out there with similar offerings.
There is no doubt that there will always be a demand for housing and infrastructure, and the civil engineers are among the most well-suited professionals for assuming a plethora of roles within the industry.