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Working lives

Gerard Gallagher, 27, a construction services executive with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, took a non-traditional route to becoming chartered.

Route to becoming chartered and beyond

I graduated from Heriot Watt University in 1995 with a BEng in civil engineering and joined Tarmac Construction (Major Projects) as a sponsored student. I chose the contracting route as work experience during the summer months of my BEng course had been with a contractor. I joined Tarmac as a site engineer under an accredited ICE training scheme on the Jubilee Line Extension project in London. Initially I was involved with site supervision of the tunnelling works below Green Park and Piccadilly. Spending three years on site, I gained a thorough understanding of civil engineering contractor style, as well as increasing my exposure to commercial management. While at Green Park, my varied experiences soon satisfied the ICE implementation objectives. After three years on site, I was ready to undertake a design placement to complete the engineering solution element of my training. However, as the ICE was in the process of widening the routes to achieving MICE status, I decided to take a non-traditional approach to fulfilling the engineering solution element of my training - with the co-operation of Tarmac (now Carillion) and the University of Edinburgh. I completed a one-year MSc by Research at Edinburgh's School of Civil & Environmental Engineering in 1998. I chose a commercially and academically viable research topic for my MSc and spent the year understanding ground penetrating radar. Having grasped the fundamentals behind the science, I successfully applied the technology to the rail industry and developed a technique to characterise ballast deterioration objectively at speed. The research identified a potential saving to the rail industry of £150M.

The reality

As well as satisfying the ICE objectives, the MSc also provided me with the opportunity to publish six academic papers, to travel and present my research abroad and to win the ICE Young Railway Engineer of the Year competition. I undoubtedly developed my engineering solution skills during my time at Edinburgh. I applied for and passed my CPR in 1999.

After finishing the MSc project, I spent six months on the Nottingham tram project reviewing consortium management systems.

I then moved on to manage an innovative alliance project between Carillion and Railtrack on the Edinburgh-Glasgow journey time reduction project. This identified quick fix novel solutions to reduce the journey time by 15 per cent. Keen to develop my skills further, I joined PricewaterhouseCoopers construction services division earlier this year. I know have the opportunity to use my engineering and management experience and apply them internationally to an enormous variety of projects.

Advice

Civil engineering by its nature can offer a wide range of career experiences. One should endeavour to gain exposure to as many different situations as possible. Use this to challenge the traditional function of a civil engineer. You may be surprised how suitable your skill set is in other industries. The ability to adapt and learn quickly is second nature to civil engineers. Those who can do this effectively will inevitably succeed.

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