A journey from sparky to chartered engineer – Paul achieved CEng with just his trade qualifications. He puts this professional achievement down to hard work and determination.
"For many years I introduced myself as Paul the electrician because I’m very proud of where I’ve come from. But I learnt that this electrician from Tottenham had been turning into a pretty decent engineer..."
Paul Meenan CEng currently works within the Transport for London (TfL) Docklands Light Railway (DLR) engineering management team. As the small team’s one and only electrical and mechanical (E&M) engineer, he is responsible (amongst other things) for oversight, audit and assurance of E&M maintenance regimes and is also the developer, author and technical content owner for DLR’s E&M standards, as well as author of requirements’ scopes for new works.
This role is a far cry from his early career as an apprentice electrician, but Paul’s passion for his work has seen him rise up the ranks.
“I’ve served the E&M sector at all levels from being ‘on the tools’ through to supervisor, site engineer, project engineering, project manager, auditor and consultant,” he says. “I put passion and pride in all I do. I know what I know and I’ll fight for it, and I know what I don’t know and I’m not ashamed to say it. Otherwise, when will you ever learn?”
This attitude has taken Paul far. As a true self-starter, he’s gone out of his way to devour every speck of sector knowledge that he can.
“I’m a bit like a rabid dog, I always went off to learn all I could so that I could back up anything I said. When I started I never understood the ‘language of engineers’. Now I know how all the departments and engineering businesses work, simply because I went away and learnt everything I could about my industry.
“At one point I went and literally learnt 3,500 railway standards. My rule was what does an electrician need to know? I read these over around six months, and became a walking encyclopedia of standards knowledge,” he laughs.
This fire in Paul’s belly didn’t go unnoticed by his colleagues and superiors. Over his career he’s been handpicked for several unique roles and projects, including being the business’ E&M, systems engineering and innovation ‘knowledge champion’ as well as rebuilding the Shepherds Bush London Underground station, which he delivered the services scope in a record setting time of 18 weeks. By the age of 24 he’d become EDF’s National Inspection Council (NIC) qualified supervisor, and was responsible for signing off project works valued at over £100m.
Although it took Paul 14 years to apply for chartership he actually first heard about professional registration shortly after completing his electrician’s apprenticeship. Diving into his work headfirst, the company’s director mentioned professional registration might be something to consider.
“I didn’t know what he was on about so I ignored him and I didn’t give it a thought until a few years later when I took a new role at EDF,” Paul notes. “Someone mentioned joining the then IEE and I said they’d never let me in, I’m just a sparky!
“They explained that they’d just joined problem-free and got letters after their name. So, with help from my managers, I applied and became TMIET,” he says. “Once a member I started looking into things more and discovered EngTech, IEng and CEng. Looking into the competences I thought I could tick the IEng box without a doubt!“
And so the ‘rabid dog’ raised his head again.
“As an electrician it’s tough to find the time to focus on professional development as you’re working full-time and many employers promise you training but don’t deliver it because you’re too busy fire-fighting on projects,” he highlights. “So, I decided I’d find my own way. I booked holiday to do my training courses and online CPD – and I did every course I could.
“I thought, I’m gonna go for IEng. I may not have the formal qualifications, but I make up for it with the sheer depth of experience I have on the railways. Alongside my training I also pushed my boundaries in the workplace, leading large teams and delivering unique projects.
“I wanted to learn everything I could, which included talking with the civil engineers – or ‘concrete farmers’ as I like to call them,” he laughs. “We learnt from each other, as they taught me civils and structures and I taught them pipes and wires.”
This professional development went on over a matter of years, with support from Paul’s director who set him the task of creating an IEng development book for the company’s designers. “He said as I wanted to go for IEng this would be a useful professional task that I could be measured on,” Paul explains.
Paul finally began completing his IEng application form, but then everything stopped when he was pulled onto a large, time-consuming project. Left by the wayside for several more years, Paul picked up the forms again after taking a new job at TfL. But something had changed.
“For many years I introduced myself as Paul the electrician because I’m very proud of where I’ve come from. But I learnt that this electrician from Tottenham had been turning into a pretty decent engineer. I decided to take another crack at IEng and so did the online assessment, which came back saying I should apply for CEng. I thought what the hell, let’s give it a go!”
Over the next three years Paul spent his weekends and Christmas breaks working through his application; gathering all his supporting documents and years of recorded evidence and getting peer reviews from colleagues.
“I have copies of every document I’ve written, every presentation I’ve ever done, every certificate I’ve ever got,” he says proudly. “I filled that last section in and ticked the CEng box.”
The IET came back asking for further information, which was a knock-back for Paul, but after the blood, sweat and tears that had gone into this work he wasn’t going to quit. A few more weekends were spent refining his application and then it was sent back.
Life then went on for Paul until, one day, at a conference he was attending, Paul received an interesting email...
“It was an email from IET Career Manager, saying my application was closed. I thought what the hell does that mean? I literally kept stopping people and asking them to read it. I ended up going outside and ringing up the IET to ask and I was congratulated on a successful CEng application. I screamed down the phone at the poor woman,” he laughs.
Paul believes attaining CEng has definitely had an impact on his career and improved his confidence. As an avid supporter of sharing knowledge, he’s now using his experiences to help others achieve professional registration by mentoring colleagues.
However, this isn’t the end of his own journey either.
“When I finally got CEng I thought holy crap, what do I do now? So I went onto the IET’s website and saw an article that said come up with a goal and write it down.
“I thought to myself, I’m going to write an article for Wiring Matters. I’m going to take something specific and interpret into layman’s terms for all my fellow ‘hairy arsed electricians’,” he laughs. “I’d been presenting for a few years and this was something I was becoming known for, getting through the ‘technobable’ and explaining the wiring regs in a more accessible way. This seems to be going down really well, as I’m getting asked to present more and more, which is incredibly humbling.
“I don’t want to stop,” he continues. “My goals are now to get into Wiring Matters and I also want to achieve Fellow status before I turn 40. I want to go back into Havering College for my annual talk and say ‘I’m an IET Fellow, a chartered engineer and I’ve only got a City and Guilds.”