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  • Bio: Wendy Tipper is a Chartered Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, currently working for RPS Planning. Wendy has worked on a variety of civil and structural engineering projects with her previous and current employer, including the Millennium Dome project. She graduated from Imperial College, London 15 years ago, after completing an honours degree course in Civil Engineering.

Wendy Tipper

The role of the civil engineer

Engineering is a very wide-ranging subject. It includes the thought process, or design, required to produce a working object, right through to the manufacture or construction of that item.

Depending on the type of engineer you are, that item may be a skyscraper, an aeroplane, a computer, a car – the list is endless. Civil engineers tend to get involved in the design and construction of buildings, airports, bridges, water supply networks or coastal marinas, to mention but a few examples.

Working as a civil engineer you may find yourself working for a firm of consulting engineers, who tend to get involved at the early design stage, or for a contracting engineer in the construction phase. You may be based in the office or on a construction site. You may work in the private or public sector of the industry. All civil engineers should have an understanding of the whole construction process. Many engineers choose to live and work abroad, where there is always a demand for professional engineers.

Choosing a career in civil engineering

Civil engineering appealed to me, as the nature of the work is very creative and you can play a major role in providing a better quality of life for the public. I studied maths, physics and chemistry A levels. Maths is an important subject for all engineers as we use it to help us solve problems. Other A levels that may be useful are languages, especially if you want to travel, or art, as being able to draw is a very useful skill.

From 1991 to 1994 I completed a three-year degree course in Civil Engineering at Imperial College in London. The subjects I studied on the course included water engineering, structures, maths, drawing, computing, geotechnical engineering, engineering law, and finance. The subjects are varied and help you to decide what field of civil engineering you want to embark on.

My first engineering job

During my time at university I was sponsored by Bristol City Council Engineering section. This required me to work for them during my university holidays and for a minimum of one year after graduating. In return I received additional money to help with the cost of studying. The holiday work experience was very useful as it enabled me to combine my theoretical studies at university with the practical knowledge gained at work.

Upon graduating in 1994, I took up a position with Bristol City Council. Not long after starting work in the office I was transferred to a site at Bristol Airport. I had a very exciting seven months working on site, being involved in the construction of a new apron, which provided additional parking facilities for aeroplanes, thus increasing the airport’s passenger capacity. I learnt a great deal about construction methods and the groups of people who come together to build a project. There was a great sense of achievement when it was completed.

Achieving my chartered status

I worked with Bristol City Council for a further year on the design of a number of flood relief schemes to reduce flooding in certain high-risk areas of the city. The work involved developing computerised models of the existing drainage system and producing design solutions to prevent further flooding of homes.

Throughout my work experience at Bristol I was progressing through the Institution of Civil Engineers training scheme, working towards Chartered status. The training scheme is quite involved and requires some self-discipline to carry out the requirements, but on acquiring Chartered status you are deemed to have reached a high professional standard that is recognised around the world.

Work on the Millennium Dome

Following this in 1997 I worked for a consulting engineers practice on a variety of projects, including the Millennium Dome at Greenwich. I spent one year in the office designing various parts of the Dome and a year based on site at Greenwich. I was part of the site team responsible for designing and supervising the construction of the Dome and its contents. This was an extremely exciting engineering project to work on, as the scale of it was so enormous and the design and construction techniques so unique.

I particularly enjoy working on site as you tend to spend a great deal of time out of doors and you meet a variety of people who come together for the duration of the project. I was responsible for supervising a number of areas of work, approximate value £5 million, that I had spent many months previously designing. There is a great amount of satisfaction in seeing something develop from early sketches to the finished product on site, and knowing that you played a key role in that process.

In 2001 I developed my career further in the direction of Project Management of engineering projects. To reinforce my skills I obtained the Association of Project Management and Prince 2 qualifications. My role involves the management of civil engineering and building projects to ensure they run smoothly and are within budget and programme.

I use my experience as a Civil Engineer to understand and coordinate the design team and my communication skills to provide the link to the client, who may not necessarily be a construction professional. My broad experience of civil engineering and achievement of Chartered Engineer status have enabled me to develop my career in this direction.

I currently work for RPS Planning & Development project managing large-scale building projects. The company is an international organisation that specialises in providing design, management, planning and environmental services for a wide range of projects and clients. My education, experience and skills mean I am well placed to understand and coordinate the different disciplines within the company and apply my project management skills.

As I gain further experience within the field that I have chosen, my level of responsibility increases. I enjoy meeting the variety of people with each new project I work on and solving the different challenges that each presents.

Looking back

Looking back to when I chose my A level subjects, it would have been difficult to foresee where my career would lead. I’ve now been working for 15 years and my career has presented me with many challenges and expanded my knowledge and skills in many ways.

My years at university taught me about the theoretical side of engineering, which you need in order to carry out the job, but I’ve learnt that it is often the people skills that you develop when working that can mean the success of a project.

More recently, while project managing engineering projects, I have had to develop these softer skills in order to undertake my job. My career as an engineer since leaving university has been extremely rewarding and stimulating and I recommend it to anyone when choosing the direction of their career.

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