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Out of Africa

Working lives Skills shortage

Construction's skills shortage is being alleviated by an influx of engineers from southern Africa. Zimbabwean Chital Patel told NCE what she has been asked to do.

Chital Patel is just embarking on her first really big job in London with consultant Scott Wilson on a new cable tunnel. The job is drawing on her water and environmental experience and introducing her to a whole new field.

'I developed a specific interest in water-orientated projects while studying at university in Cape Town, working with dams and wastewater projects. I was inspired by the idea of providing clean water for people, of doing something worthwhile that changes people's lives, ' says the 25 year old Zimbabwean.

'It was great to be able to put these skills to good use back home in Zimbabwe when I joined Scott Wilson's Harare office in 2002. Suddenly I was making a difference to the place where I grew up. I was involved in a number of local projects, an Environmental Impact Appraisal for the Triangle Landfill site, an audit for waste disposal at the Redwing Mine and a legislation review for Caltrex Oil Zimbabwe looking at health and safety' Having made her mark at home Patel decided she wanted to look beyond Zimbabwe for new challenges. 'The opportunity arose to work in the UK.

I jumped at the chance - it is always exciting to travel and I want to see how things are done in different parts of the world, especially as the civil engineering scene at home seemed a bit quiet.'

Before taking on the challenge of overseeing pollution control and drainage works on the cable tunnel, Patel worked on other UK projects. She was involved with design work on the retaining wall and structures for the St Sampsons Marina in Guernsey and environmental impact assessment work on water associated matters for the Thames Gateway Bridge - which is still ongoing.

Patel is also heavily involved in the health and safety aspects of her current project. 'Health and safety comes first, ' she says. 'We monitor all aspects of it daily.'

A lot of time is also spent liaising with the local community. A typical day would involve attending safety and co-ordination meetings and community meetings to gain feedback on any noise or pollution queries from residents and businesses.

'Whether it is pollution, construction work outside business hours or lighting on the site, many factors have to be addressed on a regular basis.'

Patel's past experience and her current work presented her with enormous challenges, but all have proved rewarding: 'I have been given more and more responsibility and now I'm playing a vital role in an important project. Naturally I was nervous at first but now I'm loving it!'

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