Gareth Allen

What is the name of the company you work for and what is your role?

The company I work for is called Atkins. I work in the Rail Solutions Team within the Rail Division, which is the UK's largest provider of railway infrastructure design and engineering, focussing on providing professional and technical advice. The Atkins rail business has transformed infrastructure from all over the world from the Dubai Metro to the London Underground. I'm based in their Birmingham office which is the main design hub for rail in the UK. 

Describe a typical day on placement

A typical day would involve me doing lots of tasks. One task would be checking contractor submittals, this means scrutinising drawings and calculations from contractors to ensure that what gets fabricated on site is structurally safe and in accordance with what Atkins has designed. 

I would also carry out structural calculations for any modifications being made on site, this would involve me drawing sketches, carrying out hand calculations and using design software such as TEDDS, LUSAS and Hilti Profis. Structural drawings may also need to be created in order to communicate my design effectively. I sometimes need to visit the construction site in order to take photographs and site dimensions to help me with my calculations.

What are you enjoying the most and are you involved in any interesting projects?

Since the beginning of my placement, I have been working on the Birmingham New Street Gateway Project. This is one of the biggest and possibly the most complex refurbishments of a train station in Europe. Atkins are the project lead and the construction phases of the £750 million station are due to be completed in 2015. 

I've really enjoyed going on site visits to see how the project is progressing. You gain a real sense of achievement when you see something on site that you've designed in the office or been involved with. 

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

I have always had a fairly busy summer which meant that I have never been able to fully commit to a work placement of significant length. Therefore a year placement seemed like the perfect solution for gaining invaluable experience. I thought it would develop my current knowledge from university and help give me ideas for my final year dissertation project. I also thought working in the industry for a year would allow me to take a step back from university and plan my future career. In the current job market, it made sense to undertake a year placement to increase my future employability and help to create key industry links. 

What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

I hope that my employability will increase as a result of undertaking the placement year. It is not only beneficial when re-applying to the same company for a graduate scheme, but also other companies. I intend to develop my existing skills and pick up new ones along the way. A year in industry counts towards chartership and helps to tick off ICE Development Objectives that you can't gain through your university course. 

Ultimately, I hope to gain some real experience of what it's like to work for an engineering consultancy. I am hopeful that I will develop a better understanding of the business area I have been working in and that I can confirm whether I want to pursue a career in that business or venture into another area within civil and structural engineering. 

Do you have any tips and advice to current students thinking of undertaking a year in industry?

The depth of knowledge you can gain from a year in industry is invaluable. I would definitely recommend current students to apply. Summer placements are also good for experience, but due to their length you may find that you won't be given the same level of responsibility.

University is great for learning theory and principles, however it doesn't give you an insight of what it's like to work in the industry. A year placement will help you to bridge this gap by applying theory learnt in lectures to real situations. You may also find out during your placement year that you enjoy working in one area more than others, which will help you when applying for graduate schemes when you finish university.