"When I started work I knew I didn't want routine," says contractor Martin. "I wanted a variety of jobs and places of work. I dreaded being in an office all the time, stuck with the same people."
One of the most important skills on site is communication. You have to be able to make yourself easily understood – by the client, the designers and the workforce. On site you never know what is round the corner, so enjoying surprises is another key attribute. You can have the best planning in the world and then lose a tunnel boring machine down a hole in the ground. But it is how you deal with the situation that determines how good a contractor you are.
If you like the sound of contracting try to get some site experience in your holidays. That way you can find out if you really do enjoy the camaraderie, the variable weather and the long hours. Once in full-time employment with a contractor you should expect to be sent straight out on site. Fresh graduates will be assigned to a more experienced engineer, but in as little as three months you could be running a small site or a section of a larger project on your own.
You can also make good money. Site-based graduates tend to earn more than those in offices, and you often get a company car. The downside is that you never know where the next job is going to be. Contractors can't guarantee that when one job comes to an end there will be another nearby, so you have to be willing to go where the work is. This might sound exciting, but in reality, uprooting yourself from your friends and family to work on a project at the other end of the country can be difficult.
For a mix of site and office-based work, consultancy is probably the best bet. Most engineers working for consultants are predominantly office-based, but there are opportunities to get out and about. As part of a design team, days out visiting the project go with the job, and consultants also have teams permanently based on site for larger projects.
These engineers supervise the work and provide the connection between office-based designers and the contractor. You could stay on site for the length of the project or for a few months to supervise a particular aspect of the work.
Both consultants and contractors see the value in young engineers getting experience of what the others do, and it is usually quite easy to arrange a secondment from one to the other. This is very useful when it comes to working towards the ICE's Professional Review, as the best way to get all the necessary experience might be to spend a bit of time with another company.