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YOUR CAREER: The launch this month of NCE's annual Graduate Awards prompted David Hayward to seek out last year's winner in the mountains of Croatia.

Darren Mort has had 'a fantastic' 12 months, triggered, he says, by winning NCE's Graduate Awards 2001 (NCE 22 March 2001). Since being handed a £1,000 cheque, and a lot of recognition from a room full of applauding industry leaders, the 26 year old Bechtel engineer has clearly been earmarked for accelerated management training.

This includes complex design work for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link; several months in the Netherlands supervising site investigation surveys for a power plant; six weeks of residential training courses on leadership skills;

dinner with his company's directors and a whole lot of responsibility on a 145km motorway contract in the mountains of Croatia.

Not your average work package for a graduate just a year out of university. 'Winning the award gave me the exposure and recognition within Bechtel to open doors a lot earlier than otherwise possible, ' Mort says.

'I want my career to be an adventure, ' he told the award judges last year. 'No other profession offers a greater diversity of challenges and opportunities.'

One year on, Mort reckons his reasoning well proven. 'Life's just great; loads of challenges, responsibility and enjoyable work' is how he sums up his present assignment. 'During the week I help to supervise $10M of subcontract work as we blast the motorway through remote mountainous terrain, and at weekends I'm off snowboarding or exploring Croatia.'

With a CV noting earlier work in Australia's gold mines, fund raising to build schools in Tanzania by climbing the UK's five highest mountains, then putting himself through university by working weekends and afternoons on construction sites, Mort was the unanimous choice of last year's judges.

All round enthusiasm is as important as academic success.

As Mort admits: 'I never saw myself as an academic - I just wanted to do something that was challenging and fun.'

But the profession could should do more to create that enthusiasm, he argues. 'Course content at university was theoretical and narrow, with some modules unchanged for decades, ' he says.

'Companies then tend to give new graduates boring, unchallenging work. Lecturers and employers should work together to give trainees a much broader base.'

But Mort has praise for Bechtel as the exception that proves the rule. Following the award, his boss offered him a job anywhere Bechtel had a contract. China came a close second to Croatia where Mort's one year personal development package is tightly structured.

He urges this year's graduates to enter for the awards. 'I was amazed yet delighted and honoured to win, ' he says. 'Pitting yourself against the best is a valuable exercise, no matter how you score.'

And being a responsible engineer, Mort obviously spent his £1,000 prize wisely - helping to reduce his university overdraft? No way - true to character, he blew it all on an adventurous week hiking around Spain, followed by a memorable weekend experiencing the attractions of Berlin.

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