Civil and Structural Engineering 2017 Graduate
Graduate Engineer/Sub Agent, Colas, Leeds
Please tell us about your current job.
I’m a graduate engineer/sub agent at Colas Limited in Leeds. Colas is a leading contracting company that delivers sustainable solutions for the design, construction and maintenance of transport infrastructure including highways, airfields and structures. Colas also manufactures its own bitumen and emulsion products.
When I first started working at Colas, I was based on site as a trainee setting out engineer working on a range of projects doing land surveying, levelling and using different instruments. Now I am progressing and working under site agents, typically as a trainee sub-agent, managing my own small schemes. I work with project managers to pre-plan works for schemes; I’m involved with the programming of the works, controlling budgets, preparing material and machinery orders, etc.
Day-to-day I’m mainly based on site, but as the year progresses I’ll be involved in the office a lot more to develop my awareness of the project management side of the business. Working on site is very interesting though, there is so much to see.
Did you face any challenges in your career journey so far?
At the start I lacked in confidence, and when I started on site I was working with numerous people. That was really nerve racking in the beginning, but you get used to it. You learn to overcome those challenges as time goes on; I built friendships at work and finally came out of my shell.
I am the only female at my base who works on site a lot; we do have other females who work in the office such as quantity surveyors and admin staff, but being the only female on site seemed like a bit of a challenge as I’d never been in that environment before. Everyone at Colas made me feel very welcome though and it was not as scary as it appeared at first. Sometimes being a woman in construction works better for you! My gender has never been a problem for me working in this company, I always feel like I belong.
Was the location of the job ever a potential barrier stopping you from getting where you wanted to be?
No, I’d be willing to do anything for my career and didn’t mind the idea of moving. Luckily, I got a job at the Leeds base meaning I didn’t have to move out or travel far.
Tell us about how you got into the job and the application process.
I graduated in 2017 but I had family commitments that meant I didn’t start applying for graduate roles until spring 2018. I applied on Indeed for lots of opportunities including Colas, and completely forgot I applied there until a few months later when I received a call from them. The application process included an assessment day which involved a standard one-to-one interview, a presentation on a given topic, a team activity and aptitude tests. I found it a fun approach to testing a person’s confidence and team building skills, as well as their abilities to perform specific tasks and respond to a range of different situations.
I am the only female at my base who works on site a lot; being the only female on site seemed like a bit of a challenge as I’d never been in that environment before. Everyone at Colas made me feel very welcome though and it was not as scary as it appeared at first. Sometimes being a woman in construction works better for you! My gender has never been a problem for me working in this company, I always feel like I belong.
What did you study at the University of Bradford? Was this something you have always been interested in?
I studied Civil and Structural Engineering. When in was younger I wasn’t sure of the path I wanted to take, but when I discussed it with my tutors at secondary school, they always recommended ‘STEM subject’ careers as they give you a wider range of possibilities due to the high demand in these fields. I have always been interested in Maths and problem solving so I decided I wanted to go into the engineering division. Civil engineering stood out to me a lot and I’m very happy with where I am now.
Did you feel prepared for the world of work once you finished studying?
I was studying Civil and Structural Engineering and the modules were mainly based on building design and steel structures instead of highway design, but in my third year there was an optional transportation module, which I chose to study and it turned out to be very useful. I would say that I’d have been more prepared if I had chosen a role that included steelwork design, however, I love the role I am in now and I’ve learnt a lot at Colas.
What advice would you give our current students based on your experiences?
Well if I could go back and do it again, I would work harder - I would make sure I worked hard from day one in my first year at University. I would advise students to start as they mean to go on and don’t let their work build up because they’ll panic as they get closer to their exams, especially in their final year. Their dissertations are their masterpieces so they should most definitely put a lot of effort and careful planning into them. Build a good friendship with your tutors and use the Career and Employability Service. I had mock interviews and the career consultants helped me review my CV and cover letters.
I didn’t do a placement year but I would highly recommend current students to do one as it gives them an insight into the world of work and builds up confidence, as well as boosting their employability after graduation.
Also, be confident, be yourself and don’t hold back. Do extracurricular activities to boost your CV and profile, sometimes having a lack of experience could have an impact on being given an opportunity. Become a STEM ambassador and work with younger students. Education and experience are equally important, but companies often look at what you do outside of work. Most importantly, join a professional institution; it will make you more employable and it will help to build your future in your career (I am a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers).
Do you have any personal career aspirations? Where do you hope to be in the next five years?
Where I am now and the way I am progressing is perfect for me. I am hoping to get to project manager level, although that will take a long time, but there’s a lot to learn on the way and I’m looking forward to it.