Turns out Jessica didn’t have to wait long to realise her dream; after finishing the undergrad she had no trouble finding work in construction.
Although, her experiences as a graduate would shape her career and shift her towards academia.
“I’d just graduated and found myself in charge of complex, high profile, high value projects,” she says.
Jessica and her peers were all facing similar circumstances.
“We were equipped with the knowledge, however we felt somewhat thrown in the deep end, with many of us managing multi-million-dollar construction projects within a few weeks of graduating,” she says.
It was these experiences that inspired Jessica to stay with RMIT and complete a PhD on work-readiness in the construction industry.
She skipped honours thanks to her exceptional grades and nabbed a scholarship to support her research, which she conducted over three and a half years, while still working as a project manager.
“Fuelled by what my peers and I experienced when entering the industry, I wanted to investigate how graduates can best be inducted and supported,” she says.
“A lot of my peers wanted to leave the construction industry as soon as they arrived.”
Jessica spent the next four years interviewing construction industry employers, peak professional body representatives, educators, students and recent graduates, forming recommendations on how to best support graduates.
These included improving mentoring and support for people new to the industry and calls for better communication between employers, educators and learners.
“Although employers, educators and graduates could identify common problems, they weren’t sharing their experiences or recommendations with each other,” says Jessica.
“There were examples like graduates not knowing how to handle salary negotiations and employers not knowing what was and wasn’t being taught at university.
“Previous studies into construction graduates had only looked at the educators’ and employers’ perspective.
“But my research also sheds light on the experiences of students and graduates to get the whole picture.”
The industry is paying attention to Jessica’s research: she just designed the graduate program for a Melbourne-based project management company.
“It focuses on what I discovered graduates and employers alike need – things like mentoring programs and a proper support model,” says Jessica.
The program was a success and is now being renewed after positive feedback from the first cohort who commenced in February 2020.