This week’s exclusive interview is with Jane Stock, who takes us through the successful career path that has led to two senior roles with one of London and the South East’s most high-profile housebuilders, Weston Homes, and its sister company, Weston Business Centres.
Please tell us a little about yourself and Weston Homes.
Weston Homes are a highly successful property developer based in Takeley, Essex. We predominately focus on developing brownfield sites and we have a diverse product range: from high-rise apartment blocks, traditional housing, redevelopment of obsolete office buildings into residential and refurbishment of listed and other buildings.
Our focus is mainly residential, but has incorporated construction of a five-star hotel, two business centres and plenty of commercial space. Our diversity makes us fairly unique and sets us apart from our competition. Formed in 1987, we have achieved over 30 years of success and now employ over 400 people throughout the group.
I undertake two very separate roles within the Weston Group: organisational development director for Weston Homes PLC and managing director of Weston (Business Centres) Limited. We currently have two business centres, providing conferencing, meeting rooms and serviced offices. Our original business centre is in Takeley and it is also the headquarters of Weston Homes and our second centre is based in Colchester.
Can you tell us about your career path, from education to training, work experience and previous roles?
I started work at Weston Homes in July 1994 as a bookkeeper/accounts assistant. My career path and skill set has always centred around bookkeeping and accounts. When I first joined Weston Homes there were only about ten employees. Over the years I have seen the company grow from strength to strength. I worked hard and my career grew with the company and by 2004 I was undertaking the role of accounts manager, heading up a small team. By this time there were over 100 employees. The opportunity came up to create a HR department and the company sponsored me to undertake a Human Resources degree. I gradually transferred over from accounts to human resources.
Business Studies was a unit at university I particularly enjoyed so when the opportunity came up to get involved with the business operation of Weston Business Centres I took on additional responsibility.
I became MD of Weston Business Centres in 2009, joined the Weston Homes board of directors in 2012 and the Weston Group board of directors in 2015. This is testament to the company’s philosophy that hard work is well rewarded and that we like to promote and offer opportunity inside the business.
Are there any past projects and/or mentors that have been particularly inspiring?
Having worked for the company and with Bob Weston, who is chairman and founder for over 22 years, I have been inspired by many things along the way.
In 1994 when I relocated to the area I attended a number of different interviews, all accountancy related. I was in fact offered three different jobs by three different employers, one of which was Weston Homes.
Having met Bob during the interview process I was impressed and inspired by both his vision for the business and his personal, passion, drive and enthusiasm to make it happen, so choosing a career with Weston Homes was the right choice for me.
Whilst various projects have inspired me and filled me with a huge sense of pride and achievement over the years – such as the massive Battersea project which included heliport, hotel and apartments, and the refurbishment of Preston Hall in Maidstone, it is still the vision, passion and enthusiasm that Bob continues to have, that is inspirational.
I have worked exceptionally hard to help deliver the business goals and this has been respected at every step and rewarded by career progression through the business.
What is it about your current role that you most enjoy?
I enjoy the diversity encompassed by undertaking two separate roles. There is the opportunity to roll my sleeves up and be involved in resolving occasional operational issues with business centres and also balancing this with meeting targets and deadlines.
There is also a more strategic role creating the people strategy to attract and retain significant numbers to keep pace with the growth of Weston Homes PLC. Both of these roles focus on working with people and teamwork – and this is the environment I enjoy working in most.
The challenge on the human resources front created by the skills shortage within the construction industry, spurs us to work harder to be an employer of choice in order to attract a good number of quality people to enable us to meet our growth plans.
Have training, recruitment and HR changed a lot since your first experiences of them?
HR, training and recruitment have moved on substantially, especially within the past ten years. There is still a plethora of regulations and employment rules to meet, which are ever increasing, but more importantly, human resources now plays a much more active and pivotal role within businesses generally. HR works closely with directors and line managers to build capabilities, plan and manage talent, and develop approaches to help achieve organisational objectives. Because the construction industry is under-resourced, a variety of training schemes have been developed to attract people into careers with us. As a business, we are also keen to develop and promote from within and training is a key element in achieving this.
With national new homes targets increasing, what are the career prospects at Weston Homes?
The career prospects at Weston Homes have never been better. The growth of the business combined with the diversity of schemes helps create a multitude of exciting opportunities. The volume and frequency of additional new roles allows us to combine attracting additional new talent and promoting/building careers from within. The training schemes offered by the business also create opportunities to fast-track career paths.
Does Weston Homes look for particular personal and skills/ qualities in applicants?
Energy, drive, enthusiasm and a can-do attitude have, and always will be, key qualities we look for. If these key qualities are there, we can provide coaching, mentoring and training to support job related skills. Due to the unprecedented growth and the sheer size, range and scale of the projects we now undertake, it is imperative that we continue to attract a balance of both highly skilled people and people wanting to learn and develop. Having career schemes, whereby some of the knowledge and experience from people who have spent their whole careers in the industry, honing their skill set, can share their knowledge and experience with others just starting in the industry, is a key focus area for us.
What’s your advice to those considering or applying for a job in UK housebuilding right now?
Housebuilding is seriously under-resourced. This shortage has massively impacted upon the pay and benefit packages achievable. There seems to be huge growth throughout the industry, due to the high demand for additional housing, which has led to an increase in resourcing shortage. Most of the large developers, Weston Homes included, are trying to attract more people into housebuilding careers by offering career apprenticeships. For people choosing which career to follow now, housebuilding has such a diverse range of disciplines and when combined with the potential growth and opportunities available, is looking more attractive than ever. It is very unfortunate that the younger generation see construction very much as a ‘builder on site wearing a hard hat and high-vis jacket’, when in reality the industry offers a myriad of opportunities from land buying to planning to architecture and engineering.