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Your career

The water industry

David Lyon, standards and development manager, Anglian Water Technology


Engineering projects themselves have not changed much since privatisation ten years ago. The biggest difference is the commercialisation within the industry. There is more dynamism, and structures have been adjusted to reflect the way in which an organisation like Anglian Water now needs to work. For instance, two years ago this department was run as five separate offices, but it has now been merged into one centralised operation in Peterborough. This has ensured that common standards and procedures are applied, which was difficult to achieve before.

The stronger focus means there is now more potential for civil engineers to progress within their specialised field. In the past, if you wanted to climb the career ladder, you had to go into project management, and then general management. Now technical people can stay in the technical field, if that is their interest, and be paid well for it. There is more scope for managers with specialised skills. We are also changing the pay structure to reward those who specialise at a high level. People will be 'incentivised' to excel.

Team working and the ability to learn from other disciplines is also important. Project teams are drawn from different specialist areas, such as civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, so they need to understand each other's perspective, and we are able to draw on a pool of experts when deciding on best practice.

Many of the engineering projects now under way in the water industry are driven by legislation. EC directives have had an impact on the secure treatment of coastal sewage, for instance. A lot of the work entails adding to buildings and plants already in use. New build is relatively rare.

You have to be very clever to make cost effective additions to existing plants - that is where the satisfaction lies. It is different to working from scratch - building a bridge where there was nothing before, for instance. You are not working from a clean sheet of paper. Working in the water industry means going back to the meaning behind the word 'engineer' - and using your ingenuity.

Engineers are very bright, and they relish a challenge. And there are plenty of challenges in the water industry. There is no need to specialise in this field as soon as you leave university with a basic engineering degree: in fact, it may be better to try working in different sectors early on. But once you reach 30 it is difficult to move in and out - and we would expect engineers to have built up some specialised knowledge of the water sector by then.

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