• 17 June 2019

Building relationships and celebrating teamwork

I didn’t specifically choose a career in engineering, but I do clearly remember being in my second year of my undergraduate Geography degree, listening to my lecturer talking about Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). It was at that moment I realised I wanted a career in the environmental sector – where I could contribute to sustainable development.

After my degree, I got a job as a Graduate Geographic Information System (GIS) Data Analyst at an engineering and environmental consultancy which just so happened to be a few miles from my home. I joined a fast-growing team working on the GIS mapping of open access land under the new Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 and gained a significant amount of experience in GIS skills, data management, quality assurance processes and public consultation including staffing public exhibitions. I became exposed to how engineering and environmental consultancy works, as well as making lifelong colleagues and friends.

To progress my career further into EIA, I chose to do a Masters in Environmental Management and gained a Commonwealth scholarship to study at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand. This was a fantastic experience and the number of international students gave me exposure to varied world-wide environmental management policies. Back home, I applied for a role as an EIA Consultant and have worked in this field and Strategic Environmental Assessment consultancy ever since.

I believe that when some people think of the “environment” they are thinking of ecology. They don’t necessarily realise what it entails to be an EIA Consultant; liaising with archaeologists, landscape architects, air quality teams, noise & vibration specialists, transport planners, flood risk and water quality experts (to name a few), as well as working closely with developers, architects, town planners, regulators, lawyers and contractors. There is a lot more to the role than people may think.

I really enjoy the diversity of my day-to-day job. No two days are ever the same and I like working with a variety of people, seeking opinions, problem solving and trying to reach the best solution possible within the mix of project delivery, business development and people management. My career has also enabled me to work on developments overseas where I’ve been able to gain first hand insight into how engineering schemes can directly benefit local communities.

The most rewarding moments for me are when we win a new piece of work. It is a reflection of a true team effort where everyone has been focused on the same goal, working hard to achieve the deadline. When starting out in my career in the environment, I didn’t expect to learn quite so much about engineering as I have done. It has been fascinating to be able to undertake site visits to water supply and treatment works, steel works, hydro-electric power plants, airports, flood defences, railways and highways. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to understand a little bit of how the infrastructure around us works.

Probably the biggest challenge I have faced in my career is combining parenthood with my career aspirations. I am fortunate enough to have a very supportive family and employer, but it is still tricky to manage family life alongside work commitments. I feel lucky to work for a company which actively supports women at my stage of life, being able to progress my career as well as parenting my two small children – even if it is exhausting at times!

Gender diversity and equality in the workplace is very important to me and I think International Women in Engineering Day is a fantastic initiative which really draws attention to how amazing our careers are. I am proud that Waterman is supporting it.

To women who are considering a career in engineering, I would say to go for it! There are so many different fields of engineering and it really does have something for everyone.

Lara Knapman


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