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Working lives

Your career

John Campbell is 32 and is the senior project planner for Heathrow's southern runway resurfacing project, as part of the BAA/Amec pavement team.

Route to the job

Brought up in South Africa, I caught the 'building bug' helping my dad - who was a builder - at weekends, and I still love the achievement of being part of creating something tangible. I studied civil engineering at Natal Technikon, qualified in 1994, and started work for a contractor as a site engineer. Over the next few years I worked up to site agent. Planning is a part of any site agent's role, but I especially enjoyed it and wanted to specialise. In South Africa, I worked on everything from an irrigation scheme to a paper mill and finally on a big aluminium smelting plant - a project large enough to require a full time planning team - which is when my life as a planner really started. With solid experience under my belt I decided to move to the UK in 1999. Amec took me on and I soon found myself part of the pavement team at Gatwick.

Expectations

I did not really know what to expect of working in the UK, or on airports, but regardless of where you work or what the project is, a planner's goal is to formulate, manage and monitor the programme. We all have our own ways of going about it, but the principles are the same.

Reality

Having said that, many of the parameters are different here. HSE laws are a whole different ball game - there is much heavier use of plant and machinery because of much higher labour costs. I sometimes feel like a mole having worked nights for three years, but the team do at least all speak the same language. This helps because the key to achieving set goals is trust - of which communication is an important part. You need to be confident that the workforce will do what you have set out in the programme. But equally, the team must trust that I know what I am doing - especially when my programme can at times seem confusing. The margins for error are almost nil - we have from 10.30pm when the last plane taxis off to 6am when the first one lands to achieve everything and leave the 'site' (runway) as though we were never there, with not a speck of debris. My job is to ensure that the orchestra of 250 personnel and 260 pieces of plant, speedily working every night, are doing so to the chosen tune. I need to know about every light or duct fitted (there are many thousands), trench dug or hole bored. This is a unique team to work with - on it's third runway - and it feels like a welloiled machine: we have increased productivity since the first runway.

Advice (to young engineers)

It was the same in South Africa as here - a tough initial slog of boring jobs that leaves you wondering what you could possibly be achieving. My advice is just to get your head down, show initiative, find the area that interests you most, and you will come through.

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