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  • Role: Mechanical Engineer
  • University: Sheffield
  • Degree: MEng Aerospace Engineering

Chris Miles

Chris Miles works for energy company, Centrica. He tells us about the environmental challenges faced by the industry and what it takes for graduates to get ahead.

Why did you choose to work in the Energy industry?

Despite an initial interest and degree in aerospace engineering, during my time at university and after a summer placement in the energy sector, I developed a keen interest for working with energy.

Providing energy, in the face of increasing demand, and doing so in a sustainable and responsible manner is a huge engineering challenge faced by all energy companies and being part of the solution should provide me with interesting and rewarding work throughout my career.

What are the advantages of working at Centrica?

Being a large company you gain a real breadth of experience with the opportunity to develop and build on your skills.

I have been able to select my placements to suit my interests and future aspirations and have been given the opportunity to see many of the different business units from gas production, gas storage, power generation, renewable energy and energy trading. Being part of a large graduate scheme also has its advantages. The scheme is well developed with a lot of support, along with a good social network amongst graduates.

Whilst Centrica is a large company, the engineering business units I have worked in have been relatively small – taking only a few graduates. I have therefore not been one in a large pool of graduates which can occur in other large company schemes – this has really allowed me to get the most out of my placements.

What did your training involve?

My training has been ongoing throughout my two-year scheme. I have had several technical courses, including:

  • Root cause analysis
  • Turbine design
  • Maintenance
  • Hazard awareness and explosives awareness

as well as several safety training courses. I have also completed an offshore survival course which allows me to work on offshore platforms. I have also completed courses on project planning and graduate development.

What is a typical day like for you now?

It can range from project work where I plan projects to place new or modify equipment on site, developing company technical procedures and documents, to being on the terminal reacting to site breakdowns and maintenance of plant equipment.

My role is a mechanical engineer, working within the technical support department, which maintains and operates two offshore gas platform complexes in the North Sea. These are connected via a sub-sea pipeline to a terminal at Easington, which processes the gas.

We also run, maintain and operate a receiving gas terminal, which processes gas via large sub-sea pipeline from Norway.

As a mechanical engineer I help to maintain and operate all the mechanical equipment on site. This includes all rotating equipment such as the compressors, pumps and turbines, all the structures including pipelines, vessels, cranes and bridges etc.

Each day you could be dealing with a different engineering request for assistance, so you have to be turned on and prepared to pick up new information and process it quickly to ensure operation is maintained.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the variety of work which I can become involved in and the amount of learning and experience I gain from it.

Whilst days in the office can be similar, I always have different projects to work on and new challenges to overcome. It is rewarding to look at a piece of kit on site and be able to say I did that or I got that working.

Regular time spent on terminals, offshore and the training and learning I get involved in also means I am never bored.

The social life at Centrica is another aspect I have enjoyed about the graduate scheme. Always being placed alongside other graduates I have had a ready-made set of friends to go out and socialise with. As part of the graduate scheme we are required to attend various training and development courses and these are always good fun, being a good chance to have a catch up with the other graduates.

What’s the most challenging part of the job?

The steep learning curve when starting each placement and each new project. Especially when I’ve also had to move locations and arrange new accommodation. But once you have done it a couple of times it gets easier and it’s really good experience of adapting to changes and dealing with challenges.

Climate change and renewable energy are big topics of discussion at the moment. It must be interesting working in an industry that can have such a big impact on these issues.

The energy industry certainly is an exciting industry to be in at this point in time. There will continue to be increasing need for energy, but less CO2 and the challenges to meet this will become more demanding as climate change awareness and green focuses intensifies.

Centrica being a main energy company within the UK, across Europe and North America plays a key part in providing solutions to the climate change challenge. We are currently building the largest UK offshore wind farm and investing significantly in increasing our renewable portfolio. I am proud to be a part of Centrica’s vision in tackling climate change.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

A number of my jobs are project engineering related for which I either modify existing or place new equipment onto terminals or offshore platforms. It is rewarding to see new equipment being installed and operating on site that you have been responsible for designing and implementing.

I have been responsible for several pipe work additions to site, new pumping systems and improving the operation of large compressors. This type of work is challenging as there are often many problems to overcome, achieving solutions withina tight time frame and implementing them safely and successfully is what I believe makes my job interesting and rewarding.

Do you have any advice for graduates wanting to get into the energy industry?

As with most things, it is best to be well organised and well prepared. Most companies such as Centrica offer summer placement programmes, which are an excellent way to get accepted into a company.

Doing research into the industry and company whilst applying for graduate schemes and before any interviews is a must. Looking at company websites, reading through company reports and reading news and media articles is also always a good start.

When applying for highly sought after graduate jobs, competition for places is intense and to give yourself a good chance of success it is essential to be well prepared for each step of the interview process. Typical steps can include online psychometric tests, telephone interviews, technical interviews and assessment centres. Help for preparing for these can often be found on company websites and within university careers services.

What qualities do you need to succeed in your sector?

Willingness to learn, ability to pick up new concepts quickly and the ability to work effectively as part of a team.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned since graduation?

The responsibility you are given during work is very real, and no different to that of some of the more experienced members of the team. Naturally that’s not without its challenges.

I’ve found that trying to manage and work within a team of people is not as easy as it first seems. People respond to different tactics in different ways. It helps to find out which way works best for each person as quickly as possible so that delays can be avoided. It’s tough, but experiences of working on projects are incredibly worthwhile.

What does the future hold for you?

I believe that my time on the graduate scheme has given me the insight and experience required to obtain a permanent position within the company, I am keen to develop my skills further, taking up differing engineering roles and building up my experiences to enable me to become a professional engineer.

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