Three decades on, I’m still learning

Mark Hillson looks back at how training has always been at the heart of his career.

We all know we’ll remember 2020 for many reasons. I have tried as the year has gone on to find positivity in our current situation – and when I realised it was my 30-year anniversary as part of the Hillsons team, I stopped and took stock and remembered all the positive training support I’d received, which allowed my career to progress in the way that it has.

I didn’t become managing director of MJ Hillson Ltd because of my name. My career has been all about hard work, training, more work and more learning. But back in 1990, things could have been very different.

Aged 16 and having just passed my GCSEs, I faced a choice: would I get an apprenticeship like my dad and go into construction, or head for the fields? You see, the other side of my family farms more than 3,500 acres of arable land in Lincoln. I’ve got some really happy memories of spending summer holidays helping on the farm. But as I grew up, I spent lots of Saturdays with Dad at work – in the joiners’ shop or out on the lorry – and I also worked on site during school holidays. So which was it to be? I decided I hadn’t really seen enough of the tougher side of farming, so I opted for construction and the chance to work with people I’d begun to admire in an industry where I worked out that if I pushed myself I could really achieve.

So I chose to follow in my father’s footsteps – but that doesn’t mean I walked straight into an office job. Personal and career development are the backbone of MJ Hillson Ltd’s success, and I knew that if I wanted to make it to the top I needed to start working and learning.

I started my City and Guilds carpentry apprenticeship and progressed to the third year (advanced craft), after which I was awarded Bedford College Apprentice of the Year. Meanwhile, I was out on site, mentored by Allan McKevaney and also working alongside Bob Swords. Alan and Bob have trained so many of our apprentices and understand the importance of learning the right skills in the right way.

After college, I completed a business studies course at the University of Bedfordshire, while on site I worked my way up from foreman to manager and finally into the office to get hands-on with estimating and surveying. I continued my training and career development, worked harder and eventually took on the role of Managing Director.

I truly believe that in a business like construction, you have to learn the skills and learn how to work with others, whether colleagues or suppliers. If you work hard, step up and apply yourself you can progress to personal success. I’m still learning now, as technology, materials and processes evolve.

But training and development mean more to me: they’re the reason we as a company can continue to deliver high-quality projects to our clients. We believe in helping our team to take advantage of all opportunities – and I’ll always be grateful I was given the chance to show what I could do.