Coming originally from Malawi, which has an under-developed transport system, I’ve always been interested in how highways and infrastructure can boost an economy. I thought that if I had a career in civil engineering I might be able to give something back to Malawi. At university I made up my mind to do as much as I could; my parents had done a lot to get me there. I held down five jobs and voluntary posts and went to China for three weeks on a study programme.
Finding my voice
My extracurricular activities did help me with my internship and job search; they brought out in me skills that I was lacking. I am naturally very shy, but that changed when I became a student and faculty representative. I stood for elections and soon I was discussing issues with the dean and the registrar. As a STEM ambassador, I went into schools and into parents’ evenings to promote civil engineering careers.
All of this developed the confidence to fit in anywhere and talk to anyone. One thing I was scared about was speaking in English, as it is my fourth language, but I soon realised that I wasn’t the only international student for whom English isn’t their first language. I found my voice and discovered the confidence to speak up and to be myself in interviews.
I knew internships would improve my CV. For my first internship, I wanted something near to my new hometown of Leicester and worked on soil samples as a technician. After this, I wanted to do an internship in highways and transport more than ever. I had completed an optional module in the specialism and I’d received good marks, so I needed to see if highways really was the sector for me. It was.
The best graduate CV tip I was given
The best application tip I’ve had was from a friend who has gone on to be a successful engineer. She said that employers see so many CVs that you have to do something to make yours stand out, such as using graphics or pie charts. I used an image of a design that I’d won a prize for and I made my CV border green to indicate my interest in sustainability. I kept my CV to one page and made it very clear what I had achieved and when. I also highlighted my skills in bold to make them stand out.
A caring, mentoring graduate scheme
My highways internship had been in a design office, so I wanted to use my graduate job to find out about working on site. Balfour Beatty’s recruitment process was smooth – they even contacted me to make sure I had the information required before the interview. I gained the strong impression that they took a lot of care of their graduates and I was right. I have an official mentor (the managing director of the south region), but I also have an unofficial mentor, a contracts manager, with whom I meet once a week. I didn’t approach him; he offered, which was lovely.
The day to day job as a site engineer at Balfour Beatty
Day to day, I am mostly on site, making sure the workforce is informed about activities, checking that the work is done correctly and on time, and resolving any issues. I also spend time in the site office completing paperwork.
The best thing about my role is the relaxed, fun environment on site: it is much louder than in a design office and there is a lot of laughter. However, that atmosphere was the most challenging aspect when I first joined; I was only the girl, and the only graduate, on the project and I worried that I wouldn’t fit in. For a month, I was quiet and then I realised there was no reason to be intimidated. My advice to others going on site is: don’t be shy. The less you say, the harder it will be to learn.
I have a supportive line manager, who nominated me for the European Women in Construction & Engineering Awards. When I reached the final, I realised that I was the only graduate there; all of the others were at least two or three years ahead of me. I came away feeling very proud of myself. I thought: ‘If I can reach this stage as a graduate, I should be able to do better in the future. I’d better keep cracking on’.
But actually this isn’t what I am most proud of: it’s being involved with the Balfour Beatty Academy, our graduate development training programme. I had noticed that there wasn’t as much information about professional development on the website as there could be. I mentioned this to senior management and I was put on the Institution of Civil Engineers steering group where I created the webpages and wrote the information to go on them.
Future career plans
I am working towards my professional qualification and my immediate priority is acquiring the competencies needed to pass. For example, I will probably move into a design role soon. In the longer term, I would like to work on a project in Malawi. Balfour Beatty has worked in Rwanda, so maybe the company will be able to help me achieve that ambition too!
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