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Working lives

Antony Muttiha, 30, has been working as a graduate engineer with Birse Construction on a four block office development in Gerrards Cross for the last month. He found out about the vacancy at the NCE-backed Construction Careers Event, held in London in March.

Route to the job After doing my GCSEs, I lived in Sri Lanka for about five years. I was working on site as a management trainee, but needed formal qualifications to climb the career ladder. So I came back and did my A levels, then took a civil engineering degree at Queen Mary College in London. After that, I went straight on to do a Masters course at University College London - I have been studying since 1993. Originally, I thought I wanted to do an MBA, but that is really a general management qualification and I wanted to get hands on experience so I could develop my engineering knowledge. At the time I joined Birse, I started a PhD course at Loughborough studying risk assessment on construction projects.

Expectations I wanted to get a job in construction which would give me the experience to back up my academic knowledge. I am an outdoor person and working on site appealed to me more than going into consultancy. But I realised I needed to know about both sides. To get to project management level, you need to know a bit of everything. I knew I would be shadowing a senior engineer and learning a lot from him. I hoped this would give me the chance to learn more quickly.

Reality Working on a construction site is like starting a different course - I have yet to come across anything I learned at college. But I do feel I have progressed even though I have only been here for four weeks. This is because of the team I am working with, who make this such a good place to work. I have also been really lucky, in that the person I am shadowing is really helpful and always prepared to discuss things with me. My employer has also been very flexible, letting me take Friday afternoons off to study. I have to go to Loughborough to see my tutor about once a month. I am treating studying like a hobby and do it whenever I can. I am now a graduate member of the ICE, and hope to get to project manager level in four of five years time. I have the academic background - now I need the experience.

Advice Joining a firm like Birse is a good move - especially if you are keen on fast track learning. Shadowing someone is an important part of expanding your knowledge - it helps to see how they tackle problems which you have only looked at theoretically.

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