Career profile: my life as a Laing O'Rourke graduate engineer
There are multiple routes to take into engineering but I was relatively uninformed on the sponsored degree route so instead accumulated a few internships in different areas while I studied. This helped me to understand exactly what I wanted to do as a career. At uni, I went to various careers fairs. We also had guest lecturers from industry who were happy to look at your CV or covering letter.
Winning an undergraduate award
It was a lecturer who suggested I should enter the TARGETjobs Construction and Engineering Undergraduate of the Year award. After completing an application and an assessment centre, I won the award and my prize was an international placement at Laing O’Rourke. I worked in the digital engineering team on my placement, setting up a tablet-based system to facilitate project delivery. I liked the fact that construction allows you to see the tangible benefits of the project you’re working on for the community. This, along with the people I met during the placement and the ethos of the company, led me to apply for the graduate programme.
On the graduate programme
One of my projects on the programme was working on the Northern line extension: I built the two shafts at Kennington and the station box at Nine Elms. I was responsible for the reinforcement package (part of the project) on the pile construction, ensuring quality so the structure’s integrity wasn’t compromised. I made sure that the workforce was working safely and the activities planned for the day were delivered, I also managed budgets and had technical responsibilities. I worked with the client, the local stakeholders and the community to make sure the construction process didn’t impact on them. I am now on a project at Heathrow and before that I worked with the design team so I have had great variation in my roles.
My graduate programme lasted 32 months with a range of training modules throughout, ranging from business awareness to interpersonal skills. We also had site visits and talks from business leaders in different sectors. I was assigned a buddy and a supervising civil engineer when I joined who support me through my professional development and help to ensure that I’m getting experience in all the necessary areas for chartership.
Winning a graduate award
My career highlight so far has been winning Laing O’Rourke’s graduate programme award. After being nominated by the engineering leaders I had to write a piece on how I’d added value to the company and to myself. From there I was shortlisted and received a project about business priority. I presented my project to a panel of business leaders and it was announced that I won at our graduation dinner. The project involved looking at how the business could bring all its components and subsystems together to operate as one team. Throughout the programme, I had worked across so many different sections of the business and developed a strong network so I collated data and feedback from every area I could to put my ideas forward.
The skills you need as a graduate engineer working in construction
A part of my job is looking at technical specifications and understanding how they fit in with the larger project. You therefore need a good attention for detail and problem-solving abilities to work in this area. Teamwork, communication and leadership skills are also very helpful. The group projects you do during an engineering degree aid these skills and a placement is also helpful in allowing you to see how what you’re learning applies to the real world.
You can also get these skills outside of your degree; reflect on your experiences and consider what skills you got out of them. For example, I started a netball team with the other girls studying engineering as a way to get to know each other. This showed teamwork, proactivity and the ability to order things outside of the classroom.
The importance of networking
It is important to build your network. I have a quarterly meeting with my supervising engineer, for which I prepare by considering the areas I’d like to develop so that he can help me speak to the right people. I also stay in contact with the people I have worked with on projects including those I worked with in Australia. Networking extends beyond the working day; during the graduate programme I would go to the pub with my peers and I continue to do so. We all work on projects all over the place so it’s nice to meet up when we are back together and see how each others’ work is going. We also visit each others’ project sites to see if there’s anything we can bring to our own.
Confidence and communication
During the application process for the graduate programme, I learned that it’s important to communicate confidently. At the end of my individual interview the interviewer said we had finished so I relaxed but he continued to ask me questions about other things. I came across much more confidently then. This confidence also transfers to working on site; as a graduate, it can seem daunting to have to make people listen to you on a new project. The reality is that people respect and value you within the team: you just have to have confidence in your judgement and not be afraid to ask questions.
For me, the most exciting part of construction is working with people from all sorts of backgrounds. It can be tough working outside in all weathers but it creates interesting engineering challenges.