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Placements: Are they worth it?

Feb 08 2008 00:11
Nick Simpson
It is that time of the year again, where you need to decide if a summer in industry is really worth it, no fear though, Livic is here to investigate!
Someone worked on a building project at Heathrow and it wasn't T5, can you believe it? I can't!

Structural Design

Anthony Wong talks about his placement in design led firm, Techniker

?Sorry, Technik-who? Can?t say I heard of them mate?. No neither had I when I applied, but what started as a random Google search turned out to be one of the most exciting work experiences to be included in my CV. With no offer of an internship at the big international engineering consultancies and no real interest in churning out concrete slab calculations either, I decided to look for more appealing work with a focus on innovative design.

Techniker are a small structural consulting firm comprised of around 16 engineers based in Vine Hill, Farringdon. However you would be surprised judging from the portfolio of work, which ranges from high-end office and education developments to art and public installations. It is the latter which interested me, and those of you wondering who created Antony Gormley?s Blind Light box, Rivington Place Arts Centre, those ultra-chic designer shops down Sloane Street or even half of the things inside Selfridges need look no further.

The directors are not only qualified engineers but architects as well
Anthony Wong

Upon entering the office the informality of the working environment really hits you. No suits can be seen, no partitions exist and open-plan is the key theme. Everyone has large workspaces and directors sit next to graduates. Two of these directors are not only qualified engineers but architects as well, which adds a creative edge to the office environment.

All it took was a copy of my CV and a covering letter to get an immediate interview, which turned out to be a very informal chat. The promise of responsibility and exciting work (along with pretty high pay for an engineering placement) gave me an offer I couldn?t refuse.

They didn?t lie about the responsibility either ? from day one I was asked to check the designs for a refurbishment, and within the end of the same week I was designing the superstructure for a private house at the same time. By the end of the placement I was helping to model and design a spiral staircase for a Foster and Partners development, attending architect meetings, going on-site to check on my projects and working with a wide range of materials Imperial wouldn?t even dream of teaching about. Heck I even got to go on a ?study tour? to Holland with them.

Techniker is a company I highly recommend to those of you who want to work for a design-led company with projects that aren?t the norm, and without the fear of getting bored and turning into one of those gormless calc bitches in certain consultancies (no I?m not bitter, honest).

Project Management

Derek Wong spent last summer in project management...

After having applied to more than 20 companies in my second year for a summer placement, I received many responses, every one turned out to be a kind rejection. I did however, apply for sponsorship with Taylor Woodrow Construction (TWC). Fortunately enough for me, I managed to secure sponsorship after an informal interview and a few critical thinking and numerical tests. I guess I was destined not to work that summer since their sponsorship scheme only started in the following September; they would sponsor me £1500 for my tuition fees (or whatever I wanted to use it for) and in exchange I would have to work for them (paid!) for a minimum of eight weeks during the summer, starting whenever I wanted. In other words, you get free money, some crucial work experience, and then more money!!

Teamwork is a major factor in doing your job effectively and efficiently
Derek Wong

After surviving my gruelling third year, work began. I felt particularly nervous on the first day because this was my first placement since university began. So I followed this Malaysian dude around who was smiling all the time and met everyone in the office. After the formalities, I got stuck in doing some excel and other small jobs. This was actually quite important since I was checking a lot of the dates that things had to be procured by against the timetables from some consultancy (I think they were called Arup?). This lasted for about two or three weeks, after which the real work began. I was taught to use the planning software, Primavera, which is a program for making Gantt charts, and that was essentially what being in the planning team was all about. I gained experience in preparing the work programmes for many of the DLR station extensions and explaining the structure of them to the package team (the whole DLR project was split into seven packages involving a set of stations and their corresponding railway). Besides this, I was asked to help with the monthly report, which described the status of each package and the associated tasks and had a bit of experience in Earned Value Analysis - checking the progress and budget of the project compared with the original tendered programme.

I did learn a lot more about the construction industry and what the world of work is really like; tiring. The largest difficulty in planning was to envisage the most efficient way of constructing or extending a station, as I have no previous experience in construction at all. However, this challenge was overcome by building a close relationship with other team members whom I could to turn to for assistance. Teamwork is a major factor in doing your job effectively and efficiently. In terms of non-technical skills, the internship has given me confidence and improved my interpersonal skills which I view with great importance because it is essential in becoming a competent engineer. I feel that my summer internship with TWC gave me an edge over graduates who have only had consulting experience. In the classroom I have been educated in the technical aspects of engineering, and during my summer I have been exposed to the practical side of it. For this reason, comparatively speaking I am more familiar with the whole process of a project. Most importantly, I got to know a group of people who I can say I would want to work with in future, and definitely the social aspect is a huge factor when choosing a future career. I would like to say that I do want to stay in engineering, but I will need to experience proper work before I can say for sure. However, do apply early on, so that you can experience both contracting and consulting, and don?t get a headache over which to choose as a graduate!

Site Engineering

Nick Simpson talks about a summer on site at Heathrow Terminal 3

Working on site is an alien experience to the normal undergraduate student - locked away for four years in Skempton. The closest many get to a real site is a brief visit to some generic low rise somewhere in London.

Like Derek (above right), I spent the last summer working for Taylor Woodrow (now Taylor Wimpey after a merger with George Wimpey), as part of the construction management/site engineering team on a new build at Heathrow Terminal 3 i.e. a brand new building providing an extension, of sorts, to a pre-existing pier at the terminal. The project engineer was Buro Happold and the structure was an open plan coaching station, used to ferry passengers to aircraft on remote stands in part of the airport piers can?t be built.

Arriving near the end of the project, my eight week placement focused on the building fit out, including aspects such as air handling and electrical services as well as finishes for walls, floors and ceilings. It is amazing how so much goes in to a building and the task of coordinating all the subcontractors for each element of the programme is a huge undertaking.

Working closely alongside airport owner and operator, BAA, the placement had some additional elements associated with working on an airport; strict security controls meant all the workforce had to be vetted by airport security; height restrictions to limit interference with the airport?s radar restricted crane operations and Foreign Object Damage, FOD, risks to taxiing aircraft meant the site had to be not only tidy, but anything mildly loose securely stowed away during and at the end of the day. While minor on their own these limitations soon mounted up and the skill and resolve of a site engineer is vital in such stressful situations.

My work was varied from day to day. As can be expected a fair amount of time was spent on my trusty dumpy level, levelling for the floor finishes and wall panels - it is astonishing how much alignment of components is required for even the simplest of installations. I recall one Friday evening when lifting the steel canopies of the bus stands in to place, I was frantically rushing about to level them as the ominous forklift slowly pursued me around the site, putting the steel frames in to place. Working under the pressure of being responsible for holding up work of not just one, but maybe four or five trades on site with a single measurement is highly stressful, but as you spot mark the last level for the tiling team at 9pm on a Friday night there is a sick sense of satisfaction.

The placement wasn?t all setting out and levelling though. Around half the time was spent in the office, dealing with the construction management side of things such as completing permits for night works and crane operations for airport control; updating the project programme and monitoring progress of key processes on site, completing as drawn sketches for the engineers and general paperwork associated with the work on site.

By the end of the eight weeks the early starts and late finishes had taken their toll but in hindsight the placement was a good opportunity to get a feel for what really happens when you finish designing a structure and the consequences of a poorly thought out programme on site. I would certainly recommend a taste of site work for even those dead set on a career in consulting, it is a real eye opener!

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