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3 Grads. 91 Days. 1 Amazing Secondment.

Graduates, Tom Harkins, Jane Overton & Charlotte Howatson talk to us about their recent assignment at the Global Design Centre (GDC)- ‘Atkins India’. From learning new skills, to forging new relationships, to discovering a vibrant culture- overseas secondments are just some of the experiences that await Atkins’ grads.

What were your very first impressions of Bangalore?

JANE: Sensory overload! The sheer amount of noise, traffic, people, and smells were unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.

CHARLOTTE: The heat… and the amazing people. Everyone at our ‘new’ office was so kind and wanted to know everything about us!

TOM: “WOW, This place is completely new to me!” At first I was a bit overwhelmed.
 
What is your usual position at Atkins? What new aspects of the business were you able to experience while you were on secondment?

JANE (Transport Planning team, Birmingham): I spend most of my time working in development planning. In India I was able to get involved in transport modelling projects. I was particularly interested in how GDC teams resource work and collaborate effectively with UK colleagues.

CHARLOTTE (Transportation, Ancillary Civils team, Glasgow): I mainly work on Railway projects. The secondment offered me some great technical, modelling experience which I struggled to get in the UK. I also took on a package of work over there, collaborating with GDC CAD technicians. This allowed me to experience how the GDC run their projects and see what is expected from GDC designers. This helped greatly with my chartership.

TOM (Permanent Way team, York): I’ve spent most of my time in Project Management and some Civils work. It was eye opening to see how the GDC teams work and get to know them better. 


 

What are some of the future-changing projects you had the opportunity to work on in India?

JANE: I worked on the A46 Midlands Road Investment Strategy (RIS) scheme. By better linking the South West, Midlands and North East England it will support massive growth in employment and housing. I worked with the team in Bangalore to build the base model in the SATURN transportation software. I also continued to work on East West Rail 2, an amazing project that will improve travel across the country, reduce the number of cars on the road, and boost growth in surrounding urban areas.

CHARLOTTE: I took on a GDC design role for a Highways project, Uxbridge Roundabout. It was all about assessing retaining structures and ultimately to keep a major route flowing and millions of motorist safe and connected each year.

TOM: I was Project Managing a depot extension job while I was out in India, and this took a lot of my time, so I was unable to get stuck into Indian work packages. I was involved with some small tasks on Hong Kong Airport as well as the Norwich, Yarmouth, Lowestoft signalling upgrade (NYL) which will improve the overall safety, reliability and sustainability of the railway and reduce delays for road users.
 
Since being back at the office in the UK, what new experiences from India have you been able to put into practice?

JANE: Many of the my GDC colleagues go for a walk every lunchtime, I’ve made sure that I have tried to do this in the UK. It’s been great getting some fresh air. I’ve also learnt a lot about the capabilities of transport planning teams in the GDC and so I’ve encouraged colleagues to use their skills on projects we’re working on. As I was working on both UK and GDC projects, my time-management skills improved.

CHARLOTTE: After working with different CAD technicians at GDC, I have more of an understanding of how different abilities can vary vastly from person to person. I now adapt my mark-ups and instructing depending on who I’m working with. I’m also much more conscious about following up and checking that everything has been understood correctly.

TOM: I think my communication has improved: it takes a lot for a Scotsman with a strong accent, to be told by an Indian co-worker, “You don’t have a strong accent”. I was obviously trying hard to speak clearly!


 

What is the time difference between India and the UK? How were you able to juggle your work responsibilities in the UK while assisting on projects in India?

JANE: The majority of our time in India was spent 5.5 hours ahead of the UK. Come British Summer Time, we were 4.5 hours ahead. We used Friday afternoon to catch up with work for Monday morning, using the time difference to help us meet deadlines. As I was working on both UK and GDC projects, I tried to complete UK work in the afternoon and GDC work in the morning, making the most of the hours when the UK were online.

CHARLOTTE: I always provided the UK checkers with drawings and reports to check between midday and the end of the GDC day, so that the UK had the afternoon to mark up and send back for the GDC morning.  When other offices didn’t remember the time difference, it meant late night meetings and missing the timezone advantage. A main aim of mine, when I came back was to make my Glasgow office more aware of the time change when working with the GDC.

Which aspect of your work knowledge did you share from the UK? How do you feel it benefitted your colleagues in India?

JANE: As part of our secondment, we had to share knowledge through a presentation. I gave two examples of development planning projects, one long term and one short term. In the GDC, many colleagues work on long term projects, so I gave them an understanding of how we manage short term projects in the UK, and how they differ to long term projects. I also shared some of the methods of Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis we have done on East West Rail 2 and explained how we use tools such as Atkins Go! in analysis.

CHARLOTTE: As most of my previous work involved level crossing design I gave a presentation on my experiences and design solutions. In India they don't have the opportunity to hear from UK suppliers. So I also presented some of the info we have from them and that we use daily in our design.

TOM: For my presentation, I talked about my previous secondment to site, as GDC staff do not go on site visits very much. The teams found this very beneficial.

India is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse nations in the world, what did you learn about diversity during your secondment?

JANE: The inclusive bank holiday system shows just how respectful Indians are of diversity. They get standard bank holidays and then can pick a couple from a list of ‘restricted holidays’. This means that many colleagues are able to choose those celebrated by their religion or in their home state. It was International Women’s Day whilst we were in the GDC. I was given a rose with a poem which ended, 'We want to celebrate your success at work, enjoy this day dedicated to bring to light your hard-hitting struggle.’ I thought this was interesting way to highlight the achievements of women within Atkins. 

CHARLOTTE: My team were keen to learn about my culture and religion, especially over Easter. They were always willing to share and discuss their religion and beliefs. However, when all 3 of us attended a cooking class one weekend, they were puzzled as to why Tom had gone along. I explained to my friends that cooking is for everyone and that they should treat their wives to a home cooked meal. I think I persuaded a few. (Maybe.)

TOM: I was overly impressed with how diverse a country India is. The people were very respectful.
 
Which Atkins office would you like to see next, and why?

TOM: I’d love to see the Scandinavian offices, although I’ve travelled Denmark well already- Canada or the US would be great!

JANE: I would also love to see the Scandinavian offices, as they are meant to have some of the happiest workplaces in the world!

CHARLOTTE: Lets go to Canada, such a beautiful country and would love to see more SNC-Lavalin and Atkins integration together.

Inspired? Find out more about Atkins’ graduates and placements.