Applying theory to practice
With a natural curiosity for the built environment and how to achieve a sustainable future within construction, Nyal Patel joined our infrastructure & environment team in Nottingham as an Apprentice to combine his passion and education into a forward-reaching career.
I’ve always had a passion for Science, Engineering and Geography but Art was my favourite subject in primary school. I loved designing and creating different pieces of artwork, whether that be drawing a structure or something abstract, and even considered whether I wanted to be an Architect or Automotive Designer. When I went to secondary school, I chose to study Graphic Design, Geography and Computer Science which influenced my decision towards a career in civil engineering.
Being a keen traveller has also swayed my career choices because I’ve been fortunate enough to visit architectural landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Hoover Dam in Nevada and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City which has peaked my interest in how such large-scale structures are designed and built. I was also very intrigued by engineering documentaries across the globe, most notably about the Panama Canal and Zhuhai–Macau Bridge, which are fascinating examples of improving the sustainability of the economy, society and environment. Then, when I was 14, I visited the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham where I had a chance to speak to engineers across the industry and gain a better understanding of the different types of disciplines.
It’s been important to me to choose a career which not only focuses on infrastructure but also on improving a communities’ quality of life. Initially I thought civil engineering was purely about buildings and structures however, after researching it further, I discovered it also provides an interaction between society and how we can improve the environment for a more sustainable future. With that, I went on to study a two-year BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Engineering at Loughborough College that covered a range of core modules, including: mechanical principles, materials, drawings for engineers and Computer-Aided Design (CAD). After completing my BTEC, I was planning to take a gap year and increase my hours at my job with Samsung, but I realised I wanted to work in a practical environment where I could continue learning about engineering at the same time.
At first, I had mixed feelings about which route to pursue. I applied to study civil engineering at university, but my gut instinct always told me to consider an apprenticeship. During the summer holidays I looked at apprenticeships on the government’s website and read the testimonials about the work other apprentices had been doing on Waterman’s careers page that were really informative and insightful. I applied for a number of apprenticeships but was fortunate that Waterman offered me an interview within two weeks. Nick Harrison (our Group Learning and Development Manager) kept me updated throughout the process and I was delighted to be accepted as an apprentice with the infrastructure & environment team in Nottingham in September.
I believe having alternative options to university is imperative as it takes into consideration people’s differing style of learning, personality and background. Offering something that is more practical-based can motivate students to continue learning in an environment that is more acceptable to them and learning from qualified civil engineers is equally encouraging as they bring the work to life. I’ve found this especially true when we are working alongside other disciplines such as drainage, structures and transport because everyone comes together to explain the context behind the projects we are collaborating on.
Before I started my apprenticeship, I expected to learn how to apply theory to practice and demonstrate the necessary technical skills to be able to execute certain jobs and the reasoning behind why we need to show our drawings in such detail. At university, the mathematics and statistics module ties in well when looking at traffic data flows and geometry in CAD, so I like that every lecture will somehow link to a project I am working on with Waterman. Alongside my mentors, I am consolidating my knowledge on what I’ve learnt during lectures and putting this into practice at work. This has been really helpful when I’ve been thrown in at the deep end and started working on live projects such as The Garage Sites in Northampton, Houghton Regis North Phase 1 in Bedford and Graven Hill in Oxford (which was recently featured on Grand Designs).
My apprenticeship means a lot to me. I’m learning as I go and am very grateful to be able to have this opportunity. I feel gratified when I can complete a task on my own because it improves my feelings of independence and has increased my confidence. I have learnt a lot in the past two months despite it being a short amount of time and look forward to progressing with my apprenticeship over the next five years.
If you would like to learn more about National Apprenticeship Week, please visit the Government’s website by clicking here.