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Graduate civil engineers: Love what you do, take every opportunity and be determined.

by Nick Benham | Assistant Engineer, Transportation

12 November 2018

Nick is the archetypal Atkins engineer: unassuming, but extremely competent, independent and hard working. He has proven himself on the iconic Humber, Forth and Severn suspension bridge projects and is all set to go abroad to do some state-of-the-art digital work. It’s hard to believe he’s still a graduate and one who has only been with us for 2 years.

Nick’s story: When I arrived at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group, on my first day I was full of nerves. I hadn’t worked at a consultancy before and wasn’t sure what to expect or if I would fit in. But after meeting the friendly team at the Bristol office I immediately felt at ease. Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging, and I soon got into the swing of things. It was also great getting to know our graduate community in Bristol. We get together quite regularly for trips to the pub, gigs and just to kick a ball around. I’ve really valued having other grads to talk to, who are in the same position as me.

Working on dream projects

I never expected to be working on such amazing projects. I thought they’d be the type of things I’d have a shot at later in my career. But at Atkins there are always opportunities going around. And some of them are probably in disguise, like the 'bread and butter work' we do that gives grads a good foundation for bigger projects. At Atkins we also receive recognition for what we achieve along the way, which certainly gives me confidence to reach for greater things!

Take every task to the max

My previous line manager, Chris gave me some great opportunities. He got me involved in developing a new and complex statistical way to assess live loads on bridges. And as a result I was nominated for technical excellence at the 2017 Transportation Awards!

– When we caught up with Nick’s Practice Manager, Chris, this is what he said:
“We have repeatedly thrown Nick in at the deep end… when he first joined, I asked him to design a buildable reinforcement cage as part of a concrete Bebo arch, which was required to curve in all three planes. Nick, having never designed any reinforcement before, delivered the design and drawings for this exceptionally complex panel in remarkably quick time to meet the contractor’s deadlines.”

When you see it, grab it!

Other opportunities came out of just reaching out to people from different offices and being curious and interested. I’d say to new graduates, get involved with as many new things as you can. I’ve been surprised about how much of a ‘domino effect’ certain events can have. It’s always good to meet up with colleagues from other offices, whether they are grads or senior leaders. And when you get talking about work, one thing often leads to another.

Our network of possibilities

At Atkins , as soon as you’re on somebody’s radar, they remember you and come back with something interesting. Through this kind of networking I met Jan from Atkins in Denmark. He has been working on a fascinating technology called Digital Image Correlation (DIC). It’s an innovative optical technique that measures strain and displacement in large structures. With my interest in bridges, I obviously found it exciting. So I started asking questions and of course, when it came up, leapt at the opportunity to join his team.

Driven by innovation

I was soon on my way to Denmark to start training, becoming one of the first UK engineers able to deliver DIC capabilities. In the past year, I’ve worked on DIC projects in England, Scotland and Denmark. I’ve used the technology to monitor bridge displacement and strain on Europe’s longest suspension bridge. I’ve also been involved in developing this technology further, remotely installing DIC which automatically monitors movement caused by temperature. And as I write this, I’m planning a trip to Liberia where I’ll be solely responsible for strain-monitoring a steel platform!

And what next? When I’m done there, I’m planning to buy some extra holiday leave so that I can take a break and do some travelling!

– When we contacted Jan in Denmark this is what he wrote:
“Nick became a DIC team member only 6 months ago and his contribution to the development of our capability already greatly exceeded expectation not only because he consistently demonstrated outstanding dedication, technical competence, diligence and eagerness to learn but also because he helped to develop additional DIC services that enabled us to increase the number of clients. He has already carried out successful structural monitoring in several European countries and is currently preparing for the first ever DIC project in Africa.”

Exciting? Start your promising Civils career at Atkins, apply here.