Last month fifty teams each of four engineers put themselves through a series of tasks to raise funds for the charity Register of Engineers for Disaster Relief (RedR). Everyone won.
The RedR Challenge, held during Civils 2002 at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham last month, was designed to raise cash for the charity while imitating real-life problems faced by engineers when out in the field providing disaster relief.
So while the teams got busy raising cash and having fun, they were also receiving some excellent practical training that their employers should now value very highly.
Many of the tasks were based on RedR training courses that teach engineers team work, give hands-on experience and stretch their ingenuity. And after the event many participants said they were interested in joining the register and training 'for real'.
There is clear evidence that joining RedR can boost staff motivation and confidence. By showing support for RedR companies can also easily prove to potential new recruits that they care about overall staff development - not just how quickly calculations can be produced.
In the RedR Challenge, teams kicked off by cycling 30 laps of a gruelling course designed to reflect the difficulties faced by relief engineers actually trying to get to disaster sites.
The more quickly teams managed it the more 'cash' they received to buy equipment for the final task of building a water transfer system.
However, progress was hindered by check points demanding 'paperwork' or bribes - again not unusual in the real life of a relief worker.
After the cycling challenge, teams could raise more cash for equipment by carrying out a series of physical or mental challenges. The more challenges carried out within the time allotted the more cash could be won.
These included seeking out items while blindfolded, in which teams were dependent on one member who acted as 'eyes' - a trust and communication exercise essential for working effectively in the field.
Finally teams were allowed to spend their cash on equipment to build a water transfer system.
The system had to move as much water as possible from one water butt to another 2m away in half an hour, with only one member operating the system.
Teams came up with a variety of approaches to this challenge - some highly complex. Others, such as the winning team from Binnie Black & Veatch, adopted simpler techniques.
In this case a bucket attached to a pipe was simply dipped in one butt and manually emptied into the other.
There were some outstanding fundraising efforts - in particular the team from Arup which raised around £4,500 to help take the overall amount raised on the day to nearly £35,000.
Isobel Byrne Hill
Isobel Byrne Hill, 27, is a structural engineer working with Arup on Heathrow T5's massive central roof. She helped her team amass £4,500 - the most raised by a single team for the RedR Challenge at Civils 2002.
It was a straight choice for me between engineering and medicine.
Engineering won because I was attracted to the variety - which has since proved to be a wise choice.
After school I spent a year working with Arup as assistant resident engineer on the Royal Opera House before being sponsored through university. This meant that each summer I could see exactly what I was working towards. Here I realised just how diverse an engineer's lot is. If students fully appreciated this then I think we would be better able to keep hold of our graduates.
I love the fact that I am always learning. I spent a year on site with contractor John Doyle - on an Arup job - which taught me a whole new perspective. I improved my management and people skills and learned how contractors operate within a completely different set of priorities to designers.
I am particularly interested in appropriate technologies and have already spent two summers overseas with Health Projects Abroad. I am a registered member of RedR and can vouch that its courses are the best I have ever attended. These are not just preparation for an assignment but are ideal for development work and help you to think about your day to day job in a completely different way.
There are many members on the RedR register who can still help out while waiting for the phone to ring with an assignment. Attending as many courses as possible is a great way to develop your own skills, but there is also a great contribution to be made through fundraising and publicising.
For the RedR Challenge we managed to raise so much, not necessarily by doing it all ourselves, but by getting others involved and supporting them with presentations, leaflets and an intranet site. Working as a team through the fundraising definitely helped us work together in the actual challenge. Now we are looking to raise awareness throughout Arup of just what RedR is all about. We are looking to set up a committee, a newsletter and a framework to get the message across.
James Piggott, 24, is a water engineer with Binnie Black & Veatch, and was a member of the victorious RedR Challenge team.
After completing my masters degree at Bristol University, which involved spending a year in Liege in Belgium, I spent two months with the Central Finnish Highways Agency in Jyvaskyla looking at how their highway system functioned. I then joined Buro Happold's infrastructure, transportation and environmental group in London and worked on such projects as the new BBC building and Arsenal's proposed football ground. After a three month break in Spain improving my Spanish I joined Binnie Black & Veach in January this year. I am working in the water process business unit on the Amp three framework contracts for water companies.
All four members of the Binnie Black & Veach team who entered and won the RedR Challenge were previously very interested in what RedR did, and we had all been on the web site in the weeks leading up to the Challenge to try and find out more. We did not really know what to expect from the Challenge, and although we appreciate that real life challenges are very different, it gave us a bit of an insight in to the type of problems the organisation encounters in real life situations. The event also proved to us how well we can all work together. We really worked as a team which is something we are all both very happy about and proud of.
As for the future, I want to continue to develop as an engineer in the water sector. And I think that like the other members of the team, I would most certainly consider working for RedR at some point in the future.