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Working lives


James Walton, 25, is a site engineer with Bowmer & Kirkland Civil Engineering

Route to job I graduated from Loughborough University in 1999 with a BEng (Hons) in civil engineering. While a student, I had chosen to spend a placement year working in industry.

This was, without doubt, the best decision I made at university. I ended up spending an enjoyable and extremely educational year working for a major contractor in London on a £20M road scheme.

After graduating from Loughborough, I turned down the offer to work in London, and became a site engineer for a major building contractor, working on a £20M distribution centre outside Leeds.

Pure civil engineering has always been my preference, so I soon started to look for civil engineering jobs. Someone I'd known at university worked for Bowmer & Kirkland and, on his recommendation, I applied for a position as a site engineer - and haven't looked back since.

Expectations When I was working for a building contractor my main role was to manage and check other people's work. With just one year's on-site experience I didn't think I was adequately qualified to be doing this. I wanted to improve my knowledge of setting-out, handling day to day problems and man management of subcontractors, before moving up the management ladder. I hoped that Bowmer & Kirkland Civil Engineering would give me the chance to do this and the opportunity of working on a variety of sites.

Reality For the past year I have worked on various construction jobs ranging from new power stations to the foundations for a newspaper press. As a site engineer, I have to be able to liaise with the client, designer, subcontractor and head office, on a daily basis. Depending on the size of the site, I play a large part in the weekly planning and management of the construction process, as well as the setting out.

In the future I plan to rise up the management ladder and manage my own sites.

Advice If you intend to study civil engineering at university but have never set foot on a construction site, my advice is to do a placement year. Even if you wish to be a designer, a year with a contractor will give you a better insight into civil engineering than a year in a design office.

For a lot of my university contemporaries a completed project is a signature at the foot of a sheet of paper; for me it's a bridge over a river.

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