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News & opinion

4 JUN 2018

Julie Fittock: returning to the workplace

Meet Julie Fittock, a chartered surveyor working for Cushman and Wakefield, as part of a team contracted to carry out Property Portfolio Management for the London Borough of Bromley.

What inspired you to become a surveyor?

Largely a mixture of fate and curiosity. My childhood dream was to be an actress in musical theatre!

Careers advice at my girls’ grammar school was very limited. I found that my A levels temporarily exhausted my interest in the subjects concerned, so I started looking for more interesting courses to study at degree level: law, surveying, business studies, cultural studies and film studies were all avenues of enquiry.

An open day at Leicester Polytechnic explaining the course content of BSc (Hons) Land Management hooked me in. I was not disappointed.

Early career

My first surveying roIe was as a management surveyor for a small private company in Maida Vale, London. I was immersed in all aspects of property management. Along with the professional activities comprised in the management of commercial properties; the planning, provision, and documenting of services for mansion blocks of apartments. After a year, I joined the ranks of public sector surveyors, working in the property department of the London (now Royal) Borough of Greenwich for the next eight years.

Family and change of career

I had a career break for 10 years raising and enjoying our two lovely daughters. During this time I continued practising and developing transferable skills. I project managed home improvements (planning, budgeting, tendering, inspecting, monitoring, snagging) including a new roof and an extension. I also enhanced my negotiation skills, as all parents do, when debating issues with our children.

When our youngest daughter was approaching school age I started to consider a return to the workplace. The surveying profession, at that time, did not generally demonstrate the flexibility I required to fit around my family life. 

The rewards, for me, of working in a well-managed primary school were huge in terms of personal satisfaction, but the financial package was not so great. Lots of transferable skills are involved in the resourcing and delivery of planned teaching activities to year groups.

The commitment and dedication of the teaching staff went above and beyond their roles, and well into their free time. I have huge respect for those working in education, but once my children reached sixth form and university respectively, I decided to initiate a return to my field of professional expertise.

Returning to surveying

I was appointed by the London Borough of Bromley, to work within the in-house property team on professional, property management and valuation work in respect of the council’s property portfolio. At the time of my appointment I was advised that the council was looking to outsource this service. As a result of this process my colleagues and I were transferred under TUPE to Cushman and Wakefield EMEA Global Occupier Services. Working within the private sector on a public sector portfolio promotes a better understanding for all.

Like the Oscars, I need to thank two surveyors who have mentored me informally on and off during my career. A briefing session updating me on key legislative changes over 20 years and in late 2015 was an invaluable start to researching for my job interview.

Personally speaking, it has not been totally plain sailing for me to return to surveying after a gap of over 20 years. More of a journey! I had a short honeymoon period followed by a period of incredible self-doubt that lasted for about a year. Fortunately, my manager at the time, did not share my doubt. When we spoke on the subject, he was very supportive. Again, thanks are due.

It has not been totally plain sailing for me to return to surveying after a gap of over 20 years. More of a journey!

What could make a difference to ‘returners’?

Perhaps being linked with a buddy or mentor at the time I returned to the profession may have provided impartial support at this time. RICS could consider cross organisation buddy or mentoring schemes for small firms, or teams, if suitable matches could be found with no likely conflicts of interest. This is not a gender specific issue. Career breaks can occur for a number of reasons. In property the cyclical nature of the property industry, and thereby the jobs market, can force some surveyors to look elsewhere for employment in recessionary times. Companies struggling to recruit qualified surveyors may wish to list their posts on education websites or publications to try to coax talent back into surveying.

Why is diversity and inclusion important?

I believe that when organisations are staffed in a way that reflects the diversity of the population, and the clients and communities that they serve, the products that are provided better reflect the needs of the whole of society.

In our profession those products are buildings fit for purpose and satisfying demand; a sustainable built environment; and public realm promoting health and wellbeing. If those factors are in place, returns on investment and enhancement in company share price and corporate social responsibility ratings will surely follow.

From the perspective of considering the gender imbalance at board levels in property companies, one explanation may be that women, who would otherwise have been able to demonstrate the experience required, may have left the profession, after becoming chartered surveyors, and not returned. I am aware that quite a few of my female peers, from both my degree course and with whom I worked at the London Borough of Greenwich, have left the profession, either to raise their families or to pursue other career goals. Most now work in different sectors of education!