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NCE Graduate Awards 2011: in the fast lane

Career enhancing opportunities are up for grabs to young engineers entering NCE’s annual Graduate Awards. David Hayward talks to last year’s winner. 

NCE Graduate Awards winner Stuart Ross had two burning aims when he was handed his £1,500 prize at last December’s awards ceremony: to promote the vital role played by graduates within construction, and also to treatit as a catalyst to fast-track his route to becoming chartered.

Fast track to the future

Now, two-thirds through his reign, Ross is well on course to achieve both. As a self-confessed workaholic, the 25-year-old hopes to become chartered by next spring − some 18 months ahead of most contemporaries.

And, by representing all Scotland’s 4,000 plus student and graduate engineers on the Institution of Civil Engineers’ national GSNet committee, plus personally lobbying both the construction minister and the ICE’s director general, Ross is hard at work promoting the value of graduates in the construction process.

“It’s a fantastic one-off chance to accelerate your career path and really get yourself noticed”

Last year’s winner Stuart Ross

“It’s a fantastic one-off chance to accelerate your career path and really get yourself noticed,” he says.
The highlight of his campaign was a meeting last month with construction minister Mark Prisk. Responding to our winner’s opening salvo that government must protect graduate jobs during the current public finance challenges, Prisk was openly sympathetic.

“I value greatly the role played by civil engineering graduates,” he says. “By protecting from cuts our major projects − such as Crossrail − we ensure the best opportunities and continuity for graduate development.”

The minister also expressed the “hope” that, in time, the current two-year public spend programme on capital projects could be extended to “three years or more”.

Out-of-the-box ideas

Ross, a graduate civil engineer in Arup’s Glasgow office, is himself an ICE schools ambassador, regularly visiting Scottish schools and mentoring undergraduates at Strathclyde University.

His award catapulted him in front of the main Arup board and triggered a meeting with the company’s UK chairman. The result is that Ross has been asked to look at ways Arup’s several hundred graduates could be given a more structured voice within the company. “Graduates bring original ‘out of the box’ ideas and our skills are very transferable,” says Ross.

He demonstrated this versatility through his choice of research project while at Dundee University. Analysing the structural properties of the human eye may not appear acutely relevant to civil engineering, but Ross maintains that, by modelling the eye’s cornea, it exhibited stresses similar to those in a loaded arch masonry bridge.

Exciting opportunities

Ross is on site spearheading design coordination of a major Edinburgh flood prevention scheme that he has seen through from the drawing board.

“This increased site responsibility, and early opportunity to see a project through from design to construction, have been a valuable boost to my career plans,” he says.

His NCE trophy is the latest of over 20 awards and prizes Ross has received during and after his five years at Dundee University.

Ross did manage a week away from work this spring to spend his prize money on a trip to Madrid. Front row seats allowed him to enjoy a Real Madrid match though, he adds with a wry smile, “it also offered an excellent opportunity to examine the stadium’s iconic structural profile.”

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