The chance to work around the globe has always been one of the big attractions of a career in civil engineering. And the opportunities are still out there.
But the days are long gone when UK companies parachuted huge numbers of staff into foreign parts on lengthy, all expenses-paid jollies. The way UK business works abroad now is to set up a local
company and employ mainly local people who speak the language and understand the tricks of local trade. Or they go into partnership with indigenous companies, again relying mainly on local staff. UK personnel are needed, but more for specialist expertise, or as managers, to organise
projects and keep an eye on parent company interests.
This means to leave university and immediately head off to work overseas might need rethinking to include some time spent gaining experience at home. But you can make sure that you are getting that experience with a firm that does a lot of work abroad. The UK marketplace is divided into firms that are focused solely on the UK and those with a big interest overseas. So if you know you want to work abroad at some stage, you should go to a firm with extensive overseas involvement.
These mainly tend to be consultants, especially big firms like Insite sponsors Atkins, Scott Wilson and
Parsons Brinckerhoff. These guys either design schemes or project manage them for their foreign clients. Design work can often be done in the UK, but most firms tend to have offices in the countries where they want to work as it makes it easier to both win business and keep track of a project’s progress.
There are also a few UK contractors and project managers operating abroad, such as Balfour Beatty, the UK’s largest construction firm. Foreign contractors operating in the UK are another good bet – like
French firm Vinci and and Japanese outfit Kajima. Contractors are the guys that work onsite building
schemes, turning designs into reality. So if a contractor wins work abroad, it cannot run the project from its UK office…it has to go there to get the job done!
Think also of sectors. The tunnelling community travels around the world from tunnel to tunnel, so if you like being underground that is another option.
Ask any civil engineer: “Where is the most exciting place in the world to work at the moment?” and you get the same answer over and over again…”the Middle East”.
The centre of the construction boom is Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but many mega projects are also under way in nearby Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Just looking at the statistics tells you all that you need to know. A third of the world’s cranes are in operation in the region helping to construct more than $1trillion (yes $1,000,000,000,000!) of infrastructure projects such as the world’s tallest building – the impossibly slender Burj Dubai (the height is top secret but Insite can tell you it will be much taller than the 700m previously predicted), the offshore islands of the Palm, the World and the Pearl, new railways, hundreds of bridges and roads, new airports, ports and countless shopping malls and, of course, the world’s largest theme park – Dubailand.
“Nowhere in the world is there such a huge building boom,” says engineering associate director Bart Leclerq. “It is every structural engineer’s dream. If you like the action, and don’t mind working hard, then this is the place to be,” he says.
Salaries in the Middle East are tax-free and the cost of living is reasonable so you can have a very comfortable standard of living. But, despite the challenging temperatures of up to 50°C in summer, and cultural differences, the overwhelming evidence from engineers is that it is all worth it. “Where else would you be exposed to such a diverse range of unusual and exciting projects?” asks
project manager Matthew Squires.
Firsthand: Yolanda Chakava
Atkins engineer Yolanda Chakava has used her expertise to improve the quality of life for more than a 1,000 school children in Kenya by providing them with essential clean water. Water specialist Yolanda not only helped to raise money for the well, but she supervised its construction. Her outstanding contribution led to her being labelled a “god send” by the school’s director, and to her receiving a £1,500 scholarship.
The 26-year-old, who joined Atkins as a graduate, supervised the drilling of the 200m-deep well at the Galilee Primary School in the Kayole- Soweto slum area of Nairobi. Three years of drought, followed by four months of devastating rains and flooding, resulted in the loss and displacement of thousands of people, damaged sanitation facilities and caused an upsurge in Africa’s major three killers: diarrhoea, malaria, and cholera. The school has around 1,000 students aged four to 18 years – many of whom are orphans. It was in desperate need of a water
well, but could not afford it, so Yolanda set out on a personal quest to raise money for the well.
She made use of an Atkins incentive that gives employees a chance to take two days paid leave, in addition to normal holiday, to carry out work to benefit the community.
“The price of clean water has risen significantly, affecting the poorest and most vulnerable people in the community for whom water has now become a luxury,” Yolanda explains. “The crisis has forced Galilee into spending its precious funding on buying clean water.”
Yolanda successfully applied for the ICE QUEST Eloise Plunkett Scholarship for 2007 and was awarded the £1,500 annual grant, which is only available to a newly qualified female civil engineer. Yolanda now hopes to assist the Galilee community in the long-term conservation of water and to increase awareness of rainwater-harvesting techniques. She says: “I intend to use the principals as a teaching aid for children, who will hopefully derive an interest in civil engineering, at the same time as thinking about their future needs.”