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Sand, Sailing and Civil Engineering

by Associate Civil Engineer, Robbie Claase

When I was at school there wasn’t much career guidance. But I knew two things for sure: I enjoyed problem solving and I had serious wanderlust. So at the end of my A-Levels, I decided to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering …

So far I’ve definitely solved plenty of problems – I’ve worked in technical design, project management, and in client account roles. My projects have been of varying sizes and scales, on all levels and aspects of design – and in amazing locations. 

My business travel highlights

I’ll never forget my first work trip abroad, during my first year as an engineer. I was sent across to Bahrain, to meet the contractor to resolve a number of site issues. The Middle East was a new frontier for me. It was a chance to learn about a new culture, its history and political dynamic. On landing, I soon discovered it was indeed a different world when I realised that I couldn’t even draw cash out… More recently I spent a year seconded to Doha in Qatar, designing the Metro for the 2022 World Cup.

The highs and lows of working abroad

Working on projects in any country is essentially the same. The main differences are cultural. In many countries offices are generally a lot more diverse than in the UK. Positively, people can be very open and interested in each other. But when the pressure is on, they can miss each other’s nuances. For example, what we consider professional behaviour in the UK can be misconstrued as calculating in the Middle East… 

When joining a completely new team, I love watching it grow and develop quickly into a highly loyal, collaborative and productive unit. I tend to work longer hours overseas, as I don’t have the same home commitments outside of work. So I naturally form closer bonds with colleagues and have a lot of fun. And with limited time to spend in different countries, I spend every free moment soaking up amazing experiences. But one of the biggest drawbacks is always, missing family and friends.
 
When I put my love of the sea to work, designing a harbour

One project I found personally fulfilling was designing the Rovinj Park Megayacht Harbour in Croatia. It was an amazing opportunity to work alongside the architects, develop something unique and learn along the way. 

I have a passion for sailing, so I know and understand the challenges of maneuvering on the water. The harbour also needed to serve extremely large vessels in excess of 100m. Again, I drew on my sailing experience, appreciating the significant effect a prevailing wind would have on large boats coming in for high-volume refuelling. I knew what it would take to design a stand-out marina of this scale, and to be doing it was thrilling!

One of the biggest challenges on this project was understanding what the client needed and managing their expectations. Using the latest graphics software at the time, we brought the marina to life from every angle. This empowered our client to ‘walk through the design’ and make clear decisions.

Getting graduates involved in bids

At the Atkins business we include graduates on almost every bid we do. The work is intense, but a great opportunity to become more efficient, professional and understand what its like to work under extreme pressure and to tight timescales. The real challenge of tendering is to keep finding new ways to set ourselves apart from competitors. In multi-disciplinary bids, collaborating with various parts of the business means you also need to be a fast learner! Grads get involved in all aspects of the process, from working with the graphics teams, to creating the submission document, and going along to meet the prospective client. The Graduates who become integral members of my bid teams are always the ones who are great listeners and who use their initiative.
 
What I value most about being a Civil Engineer is how we shape the world…

Apart from all the incredible experiences I've had in my career, for me civil infrastructure will continue to fascinate me. We’re living in the Fourth Industrial revolution where construction is being digitalised and is transforming. Once a low-margin, craft-based sector, it is becoming collaborative, automated and highly productive. It is already solving some of our major social challenges with innovations in affordable housing, autonomous vehicles and health & safety in the workplace.

Sound inspiring to you? Discover more about starting your Civils career with us.