Daniel is a third-year apprentice for our structures team in London. Whilst finalising his studies at London South Bank University, he tells us the ins and outs of his journey to engineering and the range of skills he’s learnt along the way.
I never really knew what I wanted to do after school but went on to study geology, geography, archaeology, classical civilisations and an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) at South Thames College. My teacher for geology and archaeology taught through his passion for these subjects and this rubbed off on me.
Gaining the qualifications
After college, I wanted to continue learning and looked around universities to further my studies in geology, but ended up taking a year out to work beforehand. I found the idea of £9,000 a year debt less enticing, so began looking at other jobs in banking and mechanics where I could use my maths knowledge and that were more hands-on. In the end, engineering combined everything I had previously looked at, but I didn’t have any engineering-specific qualifications. This was not a problem as the apprenticeship offered me the chance to learn while working as a quick way to immerse myself in what I would be studying.
Having spent two years completing a Level 3 Diploma for civil engineering at college, I moved on to a Higher National Certificate (HNC) at LSBU. So far, the course subjects have been going well and I am learning a lot more of the mathematics and materials side of engineering, plus it’s only 15 minutes from the office so is much more convenient to travel to.
I started my apprenticeship at Waterman on my birthday in September 2017. Our structures team consists of around 25 people and includes draftsmen and engineers of various ages, experience and qualifications. They have all been very helpful when I needed assistance with any engineering questions. Having had four different mentors over the years, each with their own unique experiences, has also helped me with different aspects of my work.
The hardest part of working in the industry has been learning and remembering the terms engineers use on a daily basis. As the work I was given at the start was limited to my knowledge, it took a while for me to understand certain references on projects. I feel that the knowledge I am gaining in the industry is really rewarding but I still don’t have nearly enough to help on projects as the graduates on my section. Although I can see the opportunities that await me further along my studies, at the same time, I am able to help them with the more practical side of our work from my two years’ experience here as an apprentice, such as using AutoCAD and checking drawings.
Creating a career
At college, we were taught a broad range of criteria to fit a number of civil engineering jobs, and a lot of my class either decided the industry was not for them or went on to do more BIM & CAD-based work. At university, we are covering materials and equations which are used by engineers on a daily basis, so the lessons have become a lot more specific for my role. Meanwhile at work, I have been drafting and editing drawings as well as creating models, which most engineers out of university have little to no experience of. Alongside my day-to-day tasks, I have also spent a year working on document control, gaining a lot of knowledge on how our documents and drawings are delivered in coordination with other consultant’s documents.
I didn’t really have many expectations going into engineering; only that I would be doing something that meant I could use my brain and problem-solving skills more than if I stayed in retail or accounting. From the get-go with my interview at Watermans, I felt very confident in my choice as I already had the skills to get me started. Since then, I have had the opportunity to attend CM IStructE exam sessions and approach directors who will answer any questions related to design and other subjects we would never have the time to talk about in the office. This has been a great help for me as it puts me in the middle of a design brief.
Looking to the future, I plan to finish my HNC and go straight into a part-time bachelor’s degree while I continue working. After this, I hope to branch out into a more specific field of civils for a master’s degree before eventually aiming towards a chartership with either the ICE or IStructE.
I would happily recommend civil engineering as a career to anyone looking for a practical, hands-on and physical role whilst being given the opportunity to gain more knowledge and experience than other science-related jobs.