National Mentoring Day 2017
Our Richard Whitehead, Structures Board Director in London, joined Waterman in 1997 and has taken a lead role in our scholarship and intern programme. In light of National Mentoring Day, he talks about his career, how a sponsorship helped get him to where he is today, and what he is looking for in our future Engineers.
I was first introduced to engineering at school where I took an interest in Technical Drawing, Maths and Design Technology. When I was 17 years old, a man named Eric Ireland from Tarmac Construction (now Carillion) came to my school to talk about a career in engineering. His introduction to the industry really interested me and I immediately wrote a letter to 20 local contractors asking if they would sponsor me through university. It was then that I started working with Tarmac, who offered me summer internships and a guarantee of further employment once I graduated.
I undertook my first site placements when I was 18, which included building a new wing onto Winson Green Prison and then working on a mine infill project in the West Midlands. Being able to work on a site as a student was invaluable as it enabled me to draw links between the theoretical university study and practical application on complex working projects.
Motivated by how my sponsorship aided my career, I now visit universities to interview students and arrange placements / scholarships within our Structures teams. Interns are treated as we would treat Graduates in that they are placed within a team and appointed a ‘mentor’ to provide the appropriate support and guidance as they work through various design tasks on live projects. I believe this enables a solid foundation for providing a ‘real life’ application for theoretical study, whilst also building strong bonds and loyalties between the company and student.
In subsequent years, our Interns have returned to Waterman to provide an important continuity within their work and studies, meaning we are able to show them how schemes develop throughout the entire design process. One student returned to our office for three consecutive summers and had the opportunity to work on Teddington Riverside, a new large residential scheme in West London, which allowed him to gain experience from the project’s early design stages through to seeing the structural frame being constructed on site. Another student worked on the design for 8 Finsbury Circus, a high-end commercial property in the City of London, during her internship and was recently taken on as a Graduate Engineer in our team.
When considering a student for an internship, I am typically looking for driven individuals who have a passion for structural engineering and building design. The universities I visit have very stiff competition (around 15 to 20 students apply for each placement offered) so those selected are generally very strong candidates with excellent communication and analytical skills. I am particularly interested in the students who are able to pick up concepts very quickly, proving they are capable of critical and creative thinking.
The interviews I carry out cover a range of structural design topics, and it becomes clear quite quickly which students have the most instinctive understanding of engineering by their responses and the questions they ask me in return.
As a mentor, my advice to those who are interested in this industry is to gain further understanding by reading industry press and attending the many interesting (and free) seminars run by the ICE (Institution of Civil Engineers), IStructE (Institution of Structural Engineers) and other industry bodies. It is also worth keeping their eyes open when walking around their local town centres, as most construction sites now have vision panels so passers-by can see what is happening behind the hoardings.