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Working lives

Basil Twine, aged 36, was recruited by UK consultant Robert West as part of a search across South Africa and Zimbabwe for staff to combat the UK skills crisis.

Route to the job I first became interested in civil engineering during careers counselling at school in South Africa's Eastern Province. I studied engineering at the Technikons of Port Elizabeth and Natal, obtained a degree in civil engineering and registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa as a professional technologist.

I pursued a career as a contractor, becoming a site agent before settling down with civils consultants and project managers.

Before I left South Africa I was a senior engineer and associate with a firm of consulting engineers. I have been involved in various civils projects, including landfill sites, upgrading rural villages, township infrastructure, stormwater, earthworks, roads, services and water supply projects. Most challenging were the construction of a 30,000t post-tensioned concrete air-conditioned silo for a sugar mill in Swaziland, and a 1km long earthfill dam wall in the former republic of Ciskei.

Expectations I became interested in working abroad partly because I had never travelled and due to the deteriorating economic and political climate in South Africa. I was also seeking different engineering related challenges. As I was single the move was relatively easy so I plucked up the courage and responded to an advertisement in a local newspaper, placed through an employment agency. The position was with Robert West.

The company helped with relocation expenses and obtaining a work permit. I then had to come to terms with the reality of this major change, the process of uprooting myself, leaving friends and a place I had lived in all my life.

But I was also looking forward to new prospects, different cultures and people in a country I had heard so much of.

Reality Robert West provided immense challenges with a variety of exciting projects, which had to be undertaken on a fast track basis.

The pace of projects and training I have received in improving my quality management expertise - especially regarding health and safety on construction projects - is in stark contrast with South Africa.

Advice My advice to young engineers from other countries is to take the opportunity if given the chance and seek employment in the UK to gain skills and a wealth of expertise, which I hope they will one day be able to use to improve the quality of life in their countries of origin.

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