May 18, 2021 - Int'l Construction Career? Here Are 4 Tactics that Worked for Me

Want an International Construction Career? Here Are 4 Tactics that Worked for Me

This is a follow up on the article I published on May 4, 2021, where I discussed my immigration journey to Canada. In that previous article, I concluded that it was my fairly unique combination of experiences and skills, together with putting myself at the right place at the right time, that allowed me to immigrate to Canada. I’m now looking at the tactics I used to build up my international experience prior to that move. I hope this new article will inspire some of you to consider an international career, and others to get some ideas on how to proceed…

Summary of my Experience

Before going into the details of the different tactics I used to gain a diverse international experience in the construction industry, let me first summarize where I lived before immigrating to Canada:

  • France: The country I grew up in, and where I started my higher education;
  • UK: Where I got the opportunity to further my studies, first in south Wales, and then in Leeds;
  • France: Where I got my first job after university;
  • Spain: When I decided to learn Spanish;
  • Gibraltar: Because, why not? It’s not like I’d get many more opportunities to work there and see what it was like…
  • Spain: When I decided to again try to find a job in Spain;
  • UK: Because the offer was definitively better;
  • Germany: Where I could get the experience I wanted while staying with the same employer; and finally

The above list excludes the locations of projects I was involved with, but was living in another country. For example, I was based in Germany while working on projects in India.

You may have noticed that, except for Gibraltar, the countries I lived in were all part of the EU (that was before the Brexit!), which meant that I did not face any immigration restrictions… but I still had to “compete” with the people already in the country.

Now, let’s look at the different tactics I used to get the international experience I was after:

1 - Languages

1st “problem”: English is not my first language. But English is the language one ought to speak if one wants an international career which, as a teenager, is something I really, really wanted…

2nd “problem”: I really struggled with learning English at school … I was studying very hard and barely getting a pass mark.

Solution?: Take whatever opportunity happens to “pass by”… for me, it was the opportunity to continue my building technology studies in the UK. There is nothing like having exams a few months into the year to push you to find ways to learn the language: attending all the classes, translating the notes issued by the lecturers, going to the English classes for foreigners provided at the university, making connections with the other students, either British or from other countries, and studying, studying, studying… “Luckily”, living in the country was what I needed to learn the language, together with the pressure of the exams!

Being bilingual from the beginning of my career definitively helped me in getting my first job in France (for an English consulting firm), as well as all my other ones – since I haven’t worked in France nor for a French company since!

Having successfully learned English, a decided a few year later that I should learn another language, Spanish, and then look for work in Spain. Based on my previous experience, I decided to register for a 3-month intensive Spanish class together with a business option – I was really serious about being able to work in construction project management in Spain! And once more, the tactic was successful, even if learning Spanish was much easier for me than learning English, as both French and Spanish have Latin roots.

However, I wasn’t so successful as to find the type of work I was looking for, for the salary I expected. But I did end up in Gibraltar, where an English construction company needed someone to work on scheduling and to compile delay claims due to multiple design changes. And that someone also had to be able to communicate between the Spanish contractors, who did not speak English, and the project manager, who did not speak Spanish. Apparently, the English construction company could not find anyone in Gibraltar nor in the UK, and ended up finding me, who was residing in Barcelona, Spain, at the time…

2 - Education

To be clear, education is not only higher education. Education also includes professional certificates, online trainings, practical trainings and courses, etc. It happens that, for me and until now, education means university education.

It started with me making the decision to select an education program that would allow me to earn a living after 2 years. It continued with me taking the opportunity to continue my studies in the UK, completing a BSc. (Eng.) in Building Technology and Management and then a MSc. (Eng.) in International Construction Management before entering the job market.

At that time, except for being bilingual (which was not that common then), I wasn’t much different to the other young professionals on the market.

But my education became a stronger asset once I entered into the MSc. in Construction Law & Dispute Resolution at King’s College London (UK) – a very well-known specialized course for people dealing with the legal side of construction, from the planning stage of a construction project to the construction stage and finally to the disputes still occurring well after completion. At the time, construction law was becoming a “thing”, with lawyers specializing in that sector, and more and more construction professionals having to understand and deal with different legal aspects of construction.

I believe that it is thanks to this latest MSc. that I was offered a new role as Contract Manager in Germany (on the construction of power plant projects in India) and then was able to immigrate to Canada with an employment contract in hand.

3 - Specializing

Following up on my previous point, I believe that specializing in contract and claim management was a tactic that allowed me to increase my international experience.

It is my experience as a claim consultant together with undertaking the MSc. in Construction Law & Dispute Resolution that took me to Germany, working on projects in India and Algeria, and then to Canada.

But even before applying to this MSc., I had several opportunities to work on delay claims on projects outside of the UK, while being based in London, and not even travelling to the countries where these projects were located. And that’s because, at the time, reputable claim consultancies were struggling to find enough experienced and qualified claim consultants to set-up offices throughout the world. Therefore, it was very common for claim consultants to be based in another country - and the UK happened to be a country with a substantial pool of experienced and qualified claim consultants. This was definitively a great experience to work on overseas projects, and to become aware of the different ways of working, such as communication between the parties, informing of delays, etc.

Another way of specializing that I encountered on large energy projects is having a technical expertise in installing or commissioning specialized equipment. This is because equipment manufacturer often request that both the installation and the testing and commissioning be done by approved personnel. Therefore, specialized teams travel from one project to another, often throughout the world, to undertake these works. Of course, large energy projects tend to be away from large cities, and may even require the set-up of camps for labors, engineers and project managers – a very different lifestyle that one needs to appreciate!

4 - Working for a Company Involved with Projects Abroad

Many large companies with offices throughout the world, whether they’re contractors, manufacturers or consultancies, offer opportunities to their personnel to move to other countries.

I already mentioned my experience working for a UK claim consultancy on projects outside of the UK, and being based in Germany while working on projects in India and in Algeria. What I haven’t yet mentioned is that my move to Germany was actually a move within the same company, but for a different type of work which required me to be working from the client’s office.

But I have also met many colleagues who moved to another country because that was where their new construction project was, or because they specialized in the installation or testing and commissioning of large equipment, or because the company didn’t want to train someone new and preferred to transfer someone with the existing skills and knowledge of the company, etc.


The four above tactics are the ones I’ve mostly relied on to build up my international career, prior to immigrating to Canada. But I have no doubt that there are many more tactics available to build up an international career, and hopefully I will be using a few more in the future!

In my opinion, building an international career is about building your own fairly unique profile based on a mix of knowledge (languages, education, specialization) and working for companies with either access to projects abroad or offices in other countries. It’s also about being different to the people already in the country you want to move to, if you have a specific country in mind.

As in my previous article, I would love to hear from you if you also have an international career and want to share some of the tactics you used.

And if you’re interested in an international career, think about which tactics you could use to get that career!