Why I Chose My School Leaver Programme In Engineering

School leaver Josie Timcke took vocational qualifications in Construction, Technical Support and Civil Engineering and went straight into a Cadet programme with Laing O’Rourke. Josie told us about her exciting role as Utilities Engineer, and how even though she side-stepped university, she’ll soon have a degree in Civil Engineering…

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Why did you decide to undertake a school leaver programme over other routes such as Apprenticeships, and how did you decide it would be in engineering?

I have always liked creating things and solving problems, so when it came to deciding on my career, engineering just seemed a very natural choice. I have always been a very practical, hands-on person. I learn best by interacting with what I am trying to understand, so I decided that learning on-the-job while at the same time gaining my qualifications was the best for me.

There are several different roles in engineering, from technicians to technologists. Does your programme cover a rounded view of the sector or have you already begun to specialise? What is the effect of this on your training?

On the programme you get a very broad view of engineering. I haven’t specialised yet. Specialising may work for some people, but personally I think there is too much to learn about to specialise in one thing. I have found the programme to be very adaptable: if I did want to learn or experience a certain method of working, as long as the opportunities were practical and available, my managers would help make it happen.

How often do you attend university as part of your programme?  How do you manage balancing your course work with your professional work?

I attend university one day a week and work four days a week. I won’t pretend that studying part-time and working in engineering isn’t challenging! You have to become very good at prioritising tasks and managing your own time, but it is possible and will be worth it once I’ve finished.

What is your favourite element of your programme? And what is the most challenging?

My favourite element is that you’re part of a group of people who you can approach for guidance and support.  It’s nice knowing that there’s a network of people who truly understand what I am experiencing and can help me be successful.

What sort of hands on experience have you had so far? How much of your programme is dedicated to practical engineering experience?

The type of experience you gain depends on which project you are assigned to, but it is all practical engineering experience. I have been part of a wide range of projects from piling, top-down construction, precast (factory-made elements), in-situ (elements made in final position) and now utilities.

What other training are you required to undergo besides your degree? Do you undertake any in-house training?

Safety is the priority no matter what site you are on and what role you do. So as a business we attend Health and Safety training to make sure everyone is aware of the possible issues that can arise and the procedures to resolve them. As part of the Cadet programme I also attend modules throughout the year focused on my personal and professional development.

What about your application do you think made you stand out as a candidate? Did you have any previous engineering experience or knowledge, or did an extracurricular school activity perhaps help your application?

I did have previous engineering experience before applying for the Cadet programme, which I think helped me. But I don’t see that as a necessity, everyone has to start somewhere and as long as you show passion and are hard-working, then you have a good chance.

How does your company support your growth through your programme? Do you have a mentor or supervisor figure, for example?

I have always been very well supported throughout my time with Laing O’Rourke, I have met and worked with people without whom I wouldn’t be in the position I am today, like my line managers and my mentor. A lot of your success is down to networking. The more people you know the more knowledge and support you have access to.

Is working in engineering how you imagined it would be? Have you run into any surprises along the way? Perhaps, for example, the amount of theoretical know how required.

I wouldn’t say that I have run into any surprises in engineering, I would say that I have learnt more than I ever would have at university alone and that my knowledge continues to grow with my experience.

What skills that you learnt whilst at school have translated to your programme? For example, have certain mathematical or statistical skills proven important? In what ways? Has this changed the way you look at certain subjects compared to your school days?

Maths plays a big part in engineering, I’m not saying that if you’re not good at maths you couldn’t be a good engineer, but an understanding of it helps. Maths was my favourite subject in school. I didn’t always see the point of what I was learning at the time: when was I ever going to use trigonometry? But now, as an engineer, I do.

What three engineering skills have you developed on your course thus far that you didn’t have before?

Skills I would say I have developed are: devising engineering solutions to problems on site; an understanding of engineering terminology; and overall I have become more able and experienced in my job, taking on more responsibility with every project move. 

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