A flexible approach makes for exciting opportunities for MWH staff
More from: Career special: MWH profile
Stella Pickard joined MWH in 2001 as an environmental engineer specialising in contaminated land investigations, and had spent four years working in the company’s Warrington offices on a range of environmental projects when the opportunity of a secondment to Scottish Power came up. “I felt I needed to do something different, so I asked if I could do it for six months,” she recalls.
“Within two months I was really enjoying it, and now I’ve been here for four and a half years.”
Taking that opportunity has moved Pickard’s career in a completely different direction: after years as an environmental specialist she is now a project manager in Scottish Power’s asset management team.
“Working within a client organisation gives you a deeper understanding of the client’s needs to build a stronger relationship.”
She is based at one of the energy company’s power stations and spends her time doing financial programming and planning, project control and procurement for new capital projects at the station.
Pickard now lives in Edinburgh, and visits MWH’s office in the city regularly to keep in touch with what’s going on within the company. “If this work came to an end there would be other opportunities for me at MWH,” she says, although she is more than happy where she is at the moment.
“My personality is that I like to finish things,” she explains. “The nature of the work here is that it is ongoing: just as one project finishes another one is under way. I really enjoy my job and the set-up I’ve got here.”
“The experience I’ve had here will be very valuable for my career development,” she says.
“Working within a client organisation is one of the best things you can do, as you can gain a deeper understanding of the client’s needs and build a stronger relationship.”
Sector director for waste and renewable energy
One of MWH’s fastest-growing markets in the Europe-Africa region is waste, including the waste to energy sector. “Last year it was a €20M business. We’re projecting €50M by 2014,” says MWH sector director for waste and renewable energy Marcel Goemans.
Existing work mainly focuses on designing waste management facilities that generate renewable energy from waste streams.
Goemans predicts that much of the growth will come in the UK, southern and eastern Europe, and UK-based engineers will have the opportunity to work on these projects, even if they don’t have a background in the sector. The company already has specialist expertise in its offices in northern Europe and Scandinavia, and is now looking to utilise the skills of its UK water engineers.
“We’ve recruited a number of people with a strong background in energy from waste.”
“The skills needed to deliver complex wastewater treatment plants are similar to those needed for waste management facilities.”
“We’ve recruited a number of people with a strong background in energy from waste so we can now mobilise our existing capabilities and bring them to the waste sector.”
The company’s water engineers are already supporting the design of the civils aspects of the UK’s largest waste to energy plant in Runcorn.
Different parts of the Europe-Africa region offer different challenges. Most of northern Europe is already well developed with waste to energy plants, while the UK, Spain and Portugal are at the stage of building additional capacity. Other countries like Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria are not building yet, but need help devising waste management plans.
The company has 60 staff in offices in Europe permanently focused on this market, and another 60 who split their time between waste and water projects.
“We have a set of waste specialists but we try to combine them with people from many different backgrounds,” he says.
“We’re building a team that is diverse in nationalities and languages, that has engineers from different technical backgrounds, who have had different careers − for example they may be from a consultancy or contractor background.
“That mix helps us to deliver and understand the questions our clients are facing, so diversity is one of our first objectives.”
Mike Holme joined MWH’s Warrington office immediately after graduating in civil engineering from Liverpool University at a time when MWH had an AMP3 programme with United Utilities. “I wanted a structured training programme, and was aware that the contract I was going into would be long term, so I needed to make the right choice” he explains.
In the intervening 10 years Holme has gained chartership and worked his way up from small-scale engineering design to project management. “After two or three years I was managing multidisciplinary teams that included electrical, geotechnical and mechanical engineers. I think that’s one of the things that helped when I was going for chartership − getting that management leadership skill early on,” he says.
He also spent six months on site, supervising construction of some of the schemes he’d designed, but when he got back into the office Holme wanted a new challenge. This resulted in a two-year stint in Brighton, helping Southern Water with a change management programme, working closely with both the client and the contractor.
“I think that’s one of the things that helped when I was going for chartership − getting that management leadership skill”
“During the second year  Southern Water experienced droughts and I was seconded as programme manager looking at projects that we could implement in just four to six weeks.”
“There was the potential that water could run out, so there was real pressure to identify the schemes, fast track the designs and get them out to the contractor to build.
“That experience really helped me,” he says. “If decisions have to be made quickly I know I can do it in a controlled manner rather than being reactive.”
Holme has continued to be seconded into client organisations, and is now working at United Utilities as a project manager on a massive programme to clean and refurbish the six large diameter trunk mains that supply 76% of the company’s water.
Last year Holme won the Association of Project Managers’ Young Project Manager of the Year award. “I’m only 30, and I’m still trying to build up project experience,” he says. “With MWH I can get experience with different clients on different projects. What interests me is programme management, and bringing efficiencies to projects I manage.”
Graduate engineer Pauline Barry is based in MWH’s Cardiff office, and works on Welsh Water’s surface water management strategy. “It’s a leading piece of work in this area, and we have drawn on lots of experience from other offices,” she explains, adding that the team has tapped into expertise from MWH offices in The Netherlands and the USA, where similar projects have already been undertaken.
The long-term strategy involves in part, trying to change behaviours to reduce the amount of surface water going into combined sewers. “The main long-term driver is climate change and to protect Welsh Water’s region from flooding,” explains Barry.
“At the moment a lot of the effort is being focused on engagement − that’s the area I’ve been most heavily involved in, developing an engagement campaign with the public and with schools. It’s been a real learning curve for me, and it’s very different from a traditional engineering role.”
“Because it’s so varied it has been excellent for my professional and personal development”
Recently she took part in a two-day event on “developing and building for a sustainable future” with more than 200 Year 9 school pupils.
“I presented on the flooding side, and how they can look to use more sustainable drainage techniques and materials, like rainwater harvesting and green roofs,” she says.
Barry has helped develop the project over the past couple of years so that the next phase of the programme can start.
“Because it’s so varied and because there are the technical aspects I can get involved in, it has been excellent for my professional and personal development. I’ve had management opportunities through it − for example because I’ve been doing presentations my communications skills are improving.”
Those skills were in evidence in 2009, when Barry presented a paper on the Welsh Water project at MWH’s annual “knowledge transfer” event at Breckenridge in Colorado. “It was a great opportunity,” she says. “There were people from all over the world, including a lot of people who are doing similar things, so I was able to get information from them and I’ve networked with them since.
“I like the idea of knowledge sharing,” she says. “If you are doing something well in one part of the world why can’t you take that and apply it to other parts of the world?”