During Black History Month we made a promise to celebrate our black peers and colleagues from across the built environment, sharing their experiences, insights and perspectives. To round off 2021 we are in conversation with Che Onyiliogwu, a Senior Account Executive at Copper.
Can you please provide your job title & a brief role description?
I’m a Senior Account Executive at Copper Consultancy, and I work within the Infrastructure Practice. I have largely worked on, and will continue to work on, National Grid projects, which will see new energy infrastructure implemented across England. My role involves supporting the team in the delivery and documenting of stakeholder engagement.
Can you tell us about your journey to reach your current position?
I studied History at the University of York where I enjoyed reading and writing about the wide ranging span of British, transatlantic and world History and the political climates that sat beneath them. By the end of my studies, I realised I wanted a career in politics and communications.
Whilst I looked for roles I could go into, I returned to my secondary school as a Teaching Assistant helping children with Special Educational Needs. Being in this role for just over a year, I was able to cultivate complementary skills that would stand me in good stead for future roles. The flexibility in this role also enabled me to undertake two weeks of work experience at Lexington Communications. These two weeks offered a brief introduction into the world of politics and communications, and reaffirmed my desire to work in this field.
At the beginning of 2019 I joined GL Hearn, where I was first exposed to planning communications, and the infrastructure sector, through working on the Luton Airport Expansion Project. This was a very challenging project which had to counteract climate challenges, but the experience it afforded me in terms of interacting with a variety of stakeholders was extremely beneficial. For the most part, I worked on residential schemes, which taught me the importance of truly understanding the areas in which you work and tailoring your communications offer to reflect that area.
I’ve been able to bring the variety of my experience to Copper Consultancy where I hope to grow my career and develop my knowledge.
What were the main 3 challenges that you faced in your career?
Similar to a lot of graduates, I didn’t have the necessary experience once I’d finished university, and so I struggled to find the job that I really wanted.
I was also placed on furlough and subsequently made redundant as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. 2020 was a challenging year for a lot of people, from a personal and professional perspective. I felt I had made significant professional progress in early 2020, and so for that to come to an abrupt end was very frustrating.
The final challenge I’ve encountered follows on from my previous one, and it was restarting work again in 2021. I was excited to restart but, having not worked for a significant period, I was aware that it could take me a while to readjust. Keeping my brain active by starting to relearn French certainly helped!
Do you see changes in representation in the industry, positive or negative?
More progress certainly needs to be made in terms of representation in the industry and this is at all levels. Part of the problem that I’ve noticed is that a career in the built environment and communications is not widely promoted or even known about. Children regularly mention they want to work in business, finance or become a doctor, and many from a black background have parents who are also keen for their children to explore these options. One way this could improve would be if children were encouraged to take more of an interest in politics and local affairs, increasing the likelihood of them later working in this field.
Do you have any advice for someone with a similar career goal?
Explore as many professional opportunities you can when you are at school and University. This is something I did not do and still regret. Employers will look very fondly upon this experience when hiring you later down the line.
As part of the Black Lives Matter UK #ProudToBe campaign, can you share something you are proud of?
I’m proud to come from a Nigerian family where strength of character, perseverance and taking pride in my work were instilled in me from a very young age. These are attributes that I’m proud to have and excited to display going forward at Copper.
Join us back in 2022 for more insights and career stories from inspirational colleagues across the sector. If you wish to share your own insights, please contact Copper today.