Written by
Tom Ritchie

Published
14 Jul 2017

Career profile: Liz Garvey, HR director, FM Conway

14 Jul 2017 • by Tom Ritchie

CV in brief

  • 2006-2011, head of HR, Gallions Housing Association
  • 2001-2006, European staffing manager, Pitney Bowes
  • 1997-2001, senior HR advisor, Atlas Copco Ltd
  • 1994-1997, HR manager, Boots the Chemists

A day in your life

Tell us about your job, organisation and team.

I’m the HR director at FM Conway – we’re a progressive, family-owned infrastructure services company operating across London and the south of England.  Essentially, we deliver construction, design and maintenance services for roads, buildings, structures and public spaces.  On any one day, you could find our teams laying roads in Kent, lighting bridges on the Thames or creating civic squares for London’s town centres.     

I have a core HR team who are responsible for all employment lifecycle activities across the business, from recruitment to employee benefits.  The skills gap is a major challenge for construction so a key focus for us is on attracting and retaining the best talent.  Giving people the training they need to stay and excel within our industry is critical to overcoming this challenge and our team has recently assumed responsibility for technical training, as well as behavioural learning and development.

What is the most rewarding and challenging parts of your role?

Well they are probably one and the same.  FM Conway is a dynamic and growing business so the most exciting as well as the most challenging part of my role is really getting things done to a professional standard in quite short timescales; this can range from a TUPE integration to support a new business acquisition to adding value through our new benefits offerings for our great people.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I bet everyone says there is no such thing!  I could be putting together a learning and development strategy with my colleague Liz, working on integrating a newly acquired businesses or I could be rolling up my sleeves and helping with an employee relations challenge.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

Actually I didn’t know I would love it as much as I do.  Like many people, I didn’t know much about the exciting opportunities a career in construction offers before I joined.  I chose to join FM Conway because it afforded me a challenge – and it still does.  I knew there would be loads to do and I felt I could make a real difference in a business that despite being fairly large now, still has family values at its heart and cares for its employees.

What skills are essential for your role?

Well I would love to say my technical, planning and organising skills but really it’s resilience and the ability to manage change!

Career path

How did you get to where you are now? Have you followed the career path you expected?

I thought I would be a teacher when I left full-time education but I worked for what is now the Work Foundation.  The role involved going into schools and I realised it wasn’t for me, so I looked for an alternative career that I could make a difference in – and I can honestly say I’ve never regretted it.

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

I specialised in staffing while working for Pitney Bowes and this meant that I gradually felt I lost my employee relations skills, so when I moved back into a more generalist role I studied the Advanced Certificate in Employment Law with the CIPD  and University of Surrey.  It gave me my confidence back and the skills to work in a diverse business like FM Conway where you might be supporting a surfacing apprentice one day and a lab technician at our materials R&D facility the next.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Probably attending the first graduation event for FM Conway’s apprenticeship programme in November.  Our apprenticeship scheme has grown from very small beginnings and we’ve worked hard to create a valuable programme for our young and talented people.  It’s a major part of our work to tackle the skills shortage, and I really hope it will continue to afford great opportunities for people to join our business and develop a long and successful career in construction.  Our CEO has set us a target of one apprentice for every 25 employees this year – a tall order – but I’ve got faith we’ll reach it!

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Choose a job that you will enjoy and then make sure you dedicate time to invest in your own professional development – you’ll be making a valuable contribution throughout your career if your knowledge has strong foundations.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Probably the same advice as I’ve offered above.  It’s something which I encourage our young apprentices and graduates to follow and one of the reasons why our in-house training programme at FM Conway is so important.  

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea? Coffee – because it makes you notice it.  Tea is generally an accompaniment to something else – probably something I shouldn’t have, like cake!
  • Sweet or savoury? Definitely savoury – I’ve recently given up chocolate and sweets 
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Rolling Stones, without any doubt – fantastic and eclectic music made by some very glamorous bad boys (they are a bit craggy now but they are still packed full of charisma.)
  • Apple or Android? Apple – I’ve never had an android anything.
  • Introvert or extrovert? Extrovert – hopefully with some lust for life (little nod to Iggy Pop.)
  • Early bird or night owl? Definitely an early bird.  I often catch up with my emails in my pyjamas – not in the office though!
  • Winter or summer? Summer – absolutely – I love the long days and the chance to get outside.  You can feel like you’re imprisoned in the winter!
  • City or countryside? Countryside – open spaces and big skies are good for your soul

Favourites

  • App: Train Planner – I use it so much for travelling to our different company sites across London and the south east.
  • Film: The Painted Veil (it’s an adaptation of a Somerset Maugham book – a great story of redemption and people not being who they might first appear to be.)
  • Song: The reel in the flickering light – Christy Moore – it’s a magical song and reminds me of my Irish Dad  My (very English) husband just loves it too.  
  • Book: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively – because I love her books and it was the first one I read – complex, graceful, elegant and engaging.
  • Childhood hero: My cousin John, he was a lot older than me, worked for the Foreign Office and was very exotic.
  • Guilty pleasure: I just love a house magazine – cheers me up – couldn’t tell you why!
  • Place to eat: Langans in Stratton Street, London – great atmosphere, loads of fantastic pictures, fabulous food and the best mashed potato in the world!
  • Holiday spot: Tobago – gloriously friendly, sunny and unspoilt.  I have loads of happy memories made there with my husband and our son.
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: Look for the solution; don’t moan about the problem.