Behind the job - Isla Wilkinson, Graduate Civil Engineer

  • 28th July 2021

Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to pursue a career in Civil Engineering? 

I have always had a passion for engineering and design. Growing up in Newcastle, from a young age I was fascinated by the city’s iconic buildings and amazing feats of engineering. The Newcastle and Gateshead quaysides are amongst my favourite places, home to the world-famous Tyne and Millennium Bridges as well as The Sage Gateshead and BALTIC Contemporary Art Centre - some of the UKs most spectacular structures.

Newcastle city centre is also a huge source of inspiration for me thanks to its eclectic mix of historical buildings from the Castle Keep to the Theatre Royal as well as modern landmarks including Newcastle Helix and most recently Hadrian's Tower. 

I’ve always had a passion for maths and physics and I just knew Civil Engineering was for me. So after my love of engineering and architecture inspired me to go travelling and experience different environments and landscapes, when I returned I enrolled at Leeds Beckett University to study Civil Engineering. In May of this year, I graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering degree and now I work at Seymour Civil Engineering. 

What were your initial impressions of the engineering industry?

Engineering is a vast sector. After studying Civil Engineering for three years at university I’m still learning a lot on the job at Seymour's. It’s amazing to be able to put what I have learned in theory, into practice on site. 

The key thing for me is how big a part engineering plays in our everyday lives. It forms an integral part of the things we often take for granted. Without it, so much of our daily life would be impossible. For example, the complex wiring that powers our homes and workplaces, the pipework that delivers our water and broadband, right down to complex structures like rail lines and roads, which enable our connectivity. I find this dynamic and complex industry fascinating.

What key skills do you need as a Civil Engineer? 

Having the determination to enter the industry and a passion for engineering are crucial. There’s no ‘one way’ to get your foot in the door but you’ve got to have the drive to secure your place onsite. 

Resilience, confidence, time management and excellent communication skills are also key to develop and hone in order to work effectively in the industry. 

Studying Civil Engineering at a degree level equips you with a broad range of theoretical knowledge and practical onsite skills from site engineering, surveying, project management and an in-depth understanding of Computer Aided Design (CAD). Everything I’ve learnt I use day-to-day and informs how I work with other team members, contractors and clients. 

What does your typical day look like as a Graduate Civil Engineer? 

Every day is different in terms of tasks and location as I work on sites across the North East. I tend to start the day by checking what tasks I need to deliver. Throughout the day I’ll be asked to help with additional ad hoc tasks and to support various team members.

Typically, I’m responsible for supporting at the start of a project. This involves receiving a project overview including set coordinates, the shape of the structure and what surface it’s going to be built on. I’ll then survey the proposed building site and ensure it’s ready for the project to begin. I’m also involved in the completion of projects. I ensure that the client’s brief has been met and the build is up to spec. 

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

I love that it is hands-on. There’s nothing better than working on-site, no matter the weather, in order to bring a project to fruition. What I enjoy the most is watching a project come to life through each stage and seeing the final result.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about a career as a Civil Engineer?

First of all, get onsite experience if you can. There’s no better way to see how other people work in Civil Engineering, to see the vast variety of roles and to decide on where you’d like to specialise within the industry. 

My second piece of advice is that there’s no one set way into the industry. Industry knowledge and passion for Civil Engineering are what you need in order to find your best route into the sector. 

My third top tip is to engage with local, regional and national engineering groups, on forums, social media and LinkedIn. These groups can offer essential advice, webinars, job adverts and be a great place to start networking. The best advice comes from people working in the industry. I’ve personally gained a lot of insight by reaching out to industry figures via LinkedIn. 

You’re in the minority as a woman in Civil Engineering. How do you find it?

I truly believe women can enter this industry with confidence and have a successful career as a Civil Engineer. In my personal experience, no one in the industry judges or treats me differently because of my gender. We are all Civil Engineers no matter our background. There is so much opportunity within Engineering and my message to anyone interested in joining the industry is to go for it. 

Why did you choose Coleman James to help you enter the Civil Engineering industry? 

After graduating I reached out to Coleman James’ Civil Engineering team to ask for their advice. 

What stood out to me was their industry knowledge. On our first call, the team was able to give me great advice about current industry trends, what employers are looking for and guidance on how as a graduate I could find my first role. 

They didn’t just stop there. They took the time to understand my capabilities and ambitions and when the right role came up they alerted me right away and guided me through the whole process. From providing me with background on the company, CV pointers through to mock interviews. I was blown away by their support. 

They really went the extra mile by checking in with me both before and after my interview. It was really reassuring to know that no matter what happened they had my back. Then, a few days later they rang me to say I had got the job. It was an amazing feeling to make my dream a reality. Thank you.