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Working lives

Chris Bowes, 44, is defence services director for TPS Consult, the multidisciplinary design consultancy formed from the Government's Property Services Agency

Route to job On graduating in 1979 from Bradford University - in civil and structural engineering - I joined the Government's Property Services Agency, as consultancy work attracted me more than working on site. I chose the PSA as it offered a wide range of work and a training scheme for becoming chartered.

I started in the Birmingham office where I worked on a variety of new build projects and maintenance investigations.

In 1981 I was moved to RAF Alconbury, where I was involved in the construction of aircraft shelters. This was my introduction to the design and construction of buildings to survive military weapons. Following a short spell back in Birmingham, I moved to PSA's Croydon office, to the specialist engineering section, where I worked initially on the design and construction of masts and towers and later on the design of buildings to resist military and terrorist explosions.

Since 1985 I have worn two hats - I design buildings to resist military or terrorist explosions, and also get involved in general civil and structural engineering, usually for the Ministry of Defence. One of my more interesting engineering projects was positioning a full sized passenger plane on the roof of Gatwick Airport.

Expectations I always wanted to be involved on the technical design side of civil and structural engineering and spent the first 15 years of my career involved in both specialist and general engineering projects. I did not expect to be involved in marketing, selling and giving presentations.

The reality I am now responsible for managing and co-ordinating all defence work at TPS Consult, from general MoD work to the specialist design of buildings to withstand terrorist or military effects. With new procurement methods like Prime for MoD and PFI, engineers need to adapt to change continually and be able to learn new skills. Current procurement methods have reinforced the theme that has run through my career; while designers are involved in the inception of a project, the client has to live with the finished article for up to 50 times longer than the design phase. It is vital, therefore, that through life costs and maintenance are considered during the design process.

Advice Never be afraid to learn new skills whether it be specialist engineering design or marketing/management techniques, but never specialise so much that you end up confined to one narrow part of the broad civil engineering profession.

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