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Enter our Graduate Awards and see your career take off

Spearheading three challenging structural design projects, from concept to construction on site − such would be an enviable CV statement for any young consulting engineer.

But to achieve just this, all within two years of graduating, has left NCE’s current Graduate of the Year James O’Donnell increasingly appreciative of the high profile he believes his award has offered him.

“I have no doubt it helped get me noticed within my company,” says the 25-year-old Arup structural engineer. “To be given such enviable responsibility so early in my career is an invaluable opportunity.”

Heathrow airport’s £26M detention centre and Wolverhampton University’s £12M performing arts complex saw O’Donnell tackling complex roof, structure or foundation designs. And he followed them through to site, overseeing structural aspects of their build.

Yet it is O’Donnell’s current and much smaller project - the £120,000 refurbishment of several commercial units in Birmingham - that brings the most satisfying smile to his face.

“This project is all mine, with responsibility for virtually everything,” he says, just days before starting as project manager on site. “Design, pricing, resourcing, construction – the lot.”

“Where else would you get such a rare opportunity as a young graduate to sell your skills in front of so many industry leaders?”

James O’Donnell

Looking back nine months, to what he believes was a significant catalyst to his success – his interview as a Graduate Awards’ finalist – O’Donnell recalls the cocktail of apprehension and adrenalin he felt as he faced the 15 judges, all senior directors for the awards’ sponsoring companies.

“Where else would you get such a rare opportunity as a young graduate to sell your skills in front of so many industry leaders?” he says. “The whole experience gave me the confidence and determination to develop my abilities to the full.”

Within days of pocketing his £1,000 winner’s cheque, O’Donnell received personal praise from Arup group chairman Philip Dilley and was summoned from his Birmingham office to London to meet the UK chief executive. Newsletter profiles and a website video interview made sure that no-one missed out on his achievements.

“You’d be a fool not to enter the competition,” is our current graduate superstar’s advice to this year’s eligible candidates – graduates who qualified last year. “Just being asked to write succinctly on a topical issue is a valuable experience in itself. And if you make it to the top six you will never forget the shortlist interview.”

His advice to new graduates, struggling this summer to catch the eye of a prospective first employer is not to “get on your bike” – but to get on a plane and search for a construction job. “Make sure you stick with civil engineering. Areas as distant as China still offer opportunities,” he suggests.


To be eligible for this year’s awards, candidates must have gained a civil engineering – or equivalent – degree last year. For details and online entry visit or contact David Hayward 01325 461149 or

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