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Q&A | A week in the life of a geotechnical engineer

Aleksandar Vasiljevic, a graduate working for civil and structural engineering firm Fairhurst describes his job as a geotechnical engineer

Describe your job.

I am a graduate geotechnical engineer for Fairhurst, a civil and structural engineering consultancy. I have been very fortunate to be involved in a diverse range of geotechnical projects from geo-structures analysis and design to compiling contract documents for ground investigations.

What’s the most exciting part of your week?

Recently, around 20% of my time has been spent on various sites. Being involved in designing, planning then supervising of the works keeps me driven. I like to call it “making it happen”.

Aleksandar Vasiljevic

Aleksandar Vasiljevic

What specific skills have you learned through your job?

A consultant’s appointment to a project is very much related to how much liability they will provide. Their service is often communicated as text, and I am learning the importance of what to say and how to say it.

What stands out as the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

Fairhurst has been appointed as engineer for multiple school developments for the Hub North Scotland. I have been involved in tendering the ground investigation and interpreting the complex ground conditions to provide appropriate foundation solutions.  

How do you explain what you do to your friends and family?

Often I say that I’m a specialist type of civil engineer that deals with everything below ground level: foundations, embankments, rocks and soils.

What route did you take into the profession?

I have always been interested in construction, so before dedicating myself to a career I didn’t know much about, I decided to do a HNC in construction at college after I finished school. From there I took the technical route into civil engineering then further specialised in geotechnics.

How far removed from the traditional role of the civil engineer do you think your job is?

I believe the traditional role of the civil engineer was much more about project management. I’m finding that higher management is [now] relieving these duties so efforts can be focused on core fee-earning work. This is a good change as it allows the business to remain competitive.

Did your role exist five years ago?

My discipline has come on in leaps and bounds in the last century with the use of empiricism based on testing and the development of soil mechanics theories. More recent advances in technology have given rise to numerical designs which still require sound engineering judgement.

What is the logical career progression for you?

As I now have an MSc and have begun my training agreement, I hope to sit my professional review for chartership within the next few years.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about civil engineering?

I would recommend getting on-site experience as soon as possible. This will teach you how the end user actually uses drawings and specifications to construct the design.

Tell us about the Fairhurst Training Forum

The Fairhurst Training Forum is an internal training group run and led by the company’s graduates with a simple objective: to enhance our graduate learning experience. The purpose of structuring this idea into a forum is to allow all trainees and graduates to contribute and learn from each other. The forum is still at introductory stage with the aim of growing this concept within the business.

What do you get out of it?

As part of the steering committee for the forum, I get the chance to influence which direction the ball will roll. Similar groups in the past have had limited success in keeping this going and now is the time to put something long-term in place. In doing so I would like to see an increase in graduate value and retainment.

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