What is the best launch pad for your engineering career? For two engineers at consulting engineer firm Hockley and Dawson, the answer is a year in industry.
Peter Levi and Katherine Buxton are both in their early career, Peter having started his civil engineering degree in 2007 while Katherine is now completing her first year of work after her degree in the same subject.
They have followed a very similar career path to date, both completed a pre-university gap year on ‘The Year in Industry’ (YINI) with Hockley and Dawson and both returned to work at the company in their vacations and after graduation.
Hockley and Dawson are specialists in conservation engineering and Peter and Katherine have worked on royal palaces, historic monuments and churches as well as on simpler structures such as houses, schools and swimming pools.
Peter recalls working on two major projects at the Tower of London and the Foreign Office, excellent experience for an aspiring engineer.
The company typically takes two gap year students on YINI each year; generally they will be trained for a couple of weeks as CAD technicians and then work with project teams on the CAD aspects of projects, large and small.
The benefits of YINI
Spending his gap year in a working environment away from home was a big attraction for Peter, not only did he enjoy the freedom of being away but he also earned a salary which gave him flexibility and enabled him to save for university.
He also discovered that the year gave him hard and soft skills, which were useful in his degree.
“The CAD training and experience was very valuable but equally gaining confidence and personal skills such as teamwork and time management was also useful,” he says. “Most important, however, was the experience of engineering as a job which provided me with the motivation to work through difficult exams as I could see the end purpose of my studies.”
Similarly Katherine found the office skills and personal skills she gained useful in her degree and early career, as well as the management training and additional maths skills training organised by EDT. People skills such as working in teams and dealing with clients proved particularly useful alongside the practical benefits of being trained as a CAD technician.
Having studied maths, further maths, and physics along with French at A level Katherine was clear that she had an interest in civil engineering as a career, but it was the year at Hockley and Dawson that focused her interest on the use of civil and structural engineering in architecture and conservation.
However, the gap year sometimes clarifies thinking in other ways.
“One of my contemporaries on ‘The Year in Industry’ realised that engineering was not for him and that a career in architecture would be preferable. Either way YINI can act as a decision aider, confirming forward direction,” Peter notes.
Aiding career development
Both Peter and Katherine were fortunate in being offered sponsorship at university by Hockley and Dawson; not a common occurrence, although across all companies about 25 per cent of placement students are offered sponsorship of some form.
As Peter acknowledges, this provides some considerable stability, providing helpful financial support at university and useful vacation work during the holidays, together with an assured first job at the end of studies.
Katherine has taken this a stage further as, after her current placement she is to return to Bristol University to complete her master’s degree, which will include elements particularly relevant to her work before returning to Hockley and Dawson for three years.
Katherine has found her current placement year very interesting as she has enjoyed an intermediate position between the 18 and 19-year-old YINI placements presently with the firm and the engineering teams of more senior people such as Peter.
“This has placed me in a position where I have had an informal mentoring role with the placement students, helping them integrate with the engineering teams. I have found this useful in observing how teams work and how mentoring and supervision is best achieved.”
Peter also finds the mentoring and supervision of students that his role requires very helpful in personal development.
“Your communications skills are certainly honed when you have to explain systems and concepts to a new starter unfamiliar with the terminology, the practices and technical expertise which are generally assumed in an engineering project environment,” he says.
“You have to think very clearly and communicate very effectively to allow the new starter to start making as effective a contribution to the team as they are able. Showing others how to do things helps you think through why you do things the way you do, and gives you practice in managing other people - a key skill for any engineer.”