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Bridging the career gap

Working lives - Lucy Lambley has successfully moved from working on building projects for Gifford Consulting Engineers to carrying out bridge assessments for Network Rail.

A graduate civil engineer 's early career can be frustrating as they are quickly moved from scheme to scheme without getting too engaged in any one project.

Lucy Lambley was just such a person as an assistant engineer for a consultant. While not blaming her erstwhile employer, she found after three years she was still being moved from one building project to another doing calculations or dealing with site enquiries.

Then the 28 year old got the chance to work on Network Rail's bridge assessment programme on secondment as an assistant bridge engineer for London and North East region. Lambley had worked exclusively on building projects. But two years with Network Rail and a permanent contract are testament to the fact that she has made the transition into rail smoothly. And Lambley has been rewarded with a project she can really get her teeth into.

'Two to three months on little jobs was all I ever did, ' she says.

'What I'm doing now is much harder and more challenging.' The task in hand is to assess overbridges as part of Network Rail's Bridge Guard 3 assessment process. This is to ensure that overbridges are strong enough to bear the load of 44t lorries, a massive task that still continues following legislation in 1998 to allow the heavier vehicles into the UK.

Based in York, Lambley is working on assessments for single or multi span arches, big and small, in brick, steel, cast iron or concrete over an area that includes the capital and the East Coast Main Line up to the Scottish border.

The biggest challenge is dealing with more than 40 local authorities across the country, reviewing their assessments and agreeing a jointly funded way forward.

'I am reviewing the bridge assessments of more than 40 people and they all have their own way of doing things, ' she says.

Lambley only joined Network Rail permanently as an assistant structures engineer six weeks ago, but she reports that she already feels well integrated into the Network Rail culture and into the rail industry.

'I knew little about bridges but there is a great bunch of people here who have invested a lot of time in me. Being here on secondment helped a lot in terms of integrating gradually into a small team.

'After two years I feel more of a Network Rail person than a consultant. There is a quite a difference, ' says Lambley, who hopes to move on to other structures work with Network Rail. 'Now I'm acting as a client to a consultant and have to communicate to them what we want to do, which is more difficult than I anticipated.' Her current role is not one she foresaw when starting a degree in architecture at Leeds Metropolitan University. 'I was too logical and didn't have the artistic flair, ' she says candidly.

'So it was suggested that I try civil engineering. It became obvious very quickly that I should have been studying civil engineering from day one. I've always liked maths and problem solving.' She designs her own computer programmes in her spare time.

Chance has worked well for Lambley so far and she is keen to see where engineering leads her. After all, civil engineering is a universal language.

'A beam is a beam whether it is holding up the floor in a building or holding up a bridge, ' she says.

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