British housebuilding relies on a top-quality supply chain, one that needs a talented workforce to meet growing demand, and we speak to Sarah White about her important role in dealing with the residential sector for British Gypsum.
Hi Sarah, please tell us a little about yourself and British Gypsum.
British Gypsum is the UK’s leading manufacturer of plasterboard and plaster-based drylining systems and products. As residential sector manager, I look after self-builders, homeowners, housing developers and social housing providers. My main focus is to introduce product and service innovations that support the industry in building better homes.
Can you tell us about your career path?
I graduated with a degree in engineering and joined British Gypsum’s Technical Department in 1999 working in the Building Test Centre. It is an independent testing facility with a range of fire, acoustic and structures tests all available in one location – not matched elsewhere in the UK. That exposed me to a wide array of construction products and methods providing me with a solid background in the industry.
At British Gypsum there is a lot of emphasis on having a career with no boundaries. My role therefore, evolved to new product innovation and from there I moved to marketing.
What does your day-to-day interaction with housebuilders involve?
I am in regular contact with housebuilders, from quick emails and telephone calls to more in-depth conversations and onsite meetings. The purpose of our interactions varies widely; I deal with short- to long-term forecasts and simple technical enquiries to develop an understanding of product needs and forecasts, and work in partnership with housebuilders to ensure our products are used to meet and even surpass building regulations – and therefore, build better homes.
That’s a big part of my role – to drive awareness in the market to improve standards in housebuilding. Our existing products and systems and our new product innovations have been developed to raise standards. We are now working closely with housing developers to introduce these products to their developments – from improving sound insulation in homes to providing building materials that will ensure stronger, more robust walls.
What is it about the construction industry that you find most satisfying from a work perspective?
Having completed an engineering degree, I always knew that I wanted a technical role. My role allows me to use my technical expertise to help housebuilders build better. Many of our new product innovations are focused on providing the end user with the best possible building materials in their home, delivering real benefits to the lives of homeowners.
Has the increase in new homes construction led to more career opportunities in the supply chain too?
There are more houses to be built and standards need to raise. This naturally leads to a rise in jobs and it also opens up opportunities for career progression.
Does British Gypsum offer much in things like apprenticeships, training programmes and career development?
British Gypsum is one of the industry’s leading training providers and opened its first Training Academy in 1966 at Erith in Kent. Over 500,000 days of training have been delivered through its network of Academies throughout the UK for installers, suppliers, clients, architects and main contractors.
As a manufacturer, British Gypsum is committed to supporting the development of new tradespeople into the construction industry. We also work with the plastering departments in colleges throughout the UK and we support approximately 5,000 students on an annual basis.
Personally, I have completed two postgraduate diplomas since joining the company. During my time in the Building Test Centre I completed a diploma in acoustics and noise control and now in my current role I have also qualified with a CIM diploma in marketing.
What’s your advice to anyone considering a career in the housebuilding sector and its supply chain?
Housebuilding is in an exciting place right now as it is at the forefront of government focus. The industry is looking at how we can build the large volume of new homes the country needs and how we can use new and modern methods of construction without compromising on quality. There are many different opportunities out there from office-based or more technical roles to the more practical ones out on site.
Where is the sector going?
There is divided opinion on how the industry can progress. After the vote on Brexit people were cautious, but the housebuilding industry continues to look at different methods of delivering new homes. The Build to Rent market is one of the fastest-growing sectors influencing the way we construct homes and how people want to live in their homes. It is an exciting time to join the industry as it seeks ways to push the boundaries and do things a bit differently.