After returning to engineering from a stint as a trainee actuary, Chris found the Atkins graduate scheme a great opportunity to develop as a professional engineer, with the chance to work overseas and walk away as a CEng.
When Chris chose what to study at university, he simply picked what felt right at the time. He had no real idea of what he wanted to do long term, so he chose electronic and electrical engineering as it brought together several of his interests - electronics, computing, maths, physics and a bit of business - all combined in one neat package.
After he finished university he joined a pensions consultancy and began the training to become an actuary. He worked there for nearly two years before deciding that the life wasn’t for him.
“I made this decision because the work had become repetitive. I just couldn’t see myself doing that for the next 40 years,” he explains. “The fact that my first job was working for a pensions consultancy just goes to show what a wide variety of job opportunities exist for engineering graduates - there is no one route to take once you leave university.
“Ultimately, however, I returned to engineering. I did this because technology interests me more than number crunching. I want to work with cutting-edge technology, to be creative and to help design the ‘next big thing’.”
Chris knew he wanted good career opportunities so decided to apply for a place on Atkins’ graduate scheme, which sees many graduates walk away with Chartered Engineer (CEng) status.
“Companies like Atkins realise that the graduates they take on today may be managing the company in a few years time. Therefore, they invest significantly in training and development to help you reach your full potential,” he explains. “The first couple of years are clearly mapped out with tailored training courses and secondment opportunities. I even went out to Dubai within my first three months!”
Atkins is a big name in engineering, so applications always far exceed the number of opportunities available - competition is tough. The application process is somewhat standard for a graduate scheme - there’s an online application, a telephone interview and then an assessment centre.
“Recently I saw the process from the corporate side as I was given the responsibility of selecting the candidates to attend the assessment centre, and carried out the technical interview. My advice would be that it’s crucial to find ways to make yourself stand out at every stage of the application process,” he highlights.
“Talk about what you have to offer, what you want to do and why you would fit into Atkins. Try to avoid too much flattery towards the company as it’s not interesting for the reviewers to read - they want to know about you. Atkins looks for the best, so if you decide to apply then make sure you set aside plenty of time to research the company - what we do, how we do it, the consultancy business model - and prepare your application carefully.”
Since Chris made the career switch, he’s not looked back. A highlight has of course been the chance to work out in Dubai.
“Soon after I joined Atkins I was given the opportunity to work in Dubai for two months. It was a truly eye-opening experience,” he says.
“With many of the projects there enjoying the status of ‘biggest in the world’ and many being highly extravagant, it was a very different business environment compared to the UK.
“Another significant difference is that many of the developments in Dubai are brand new, so rather than having to do a technical refresh, or extend an existing system - which is more common in the UK - there was the opportunity to start with a clean sheet of paper and work with the latest technologies and techniques.
“I worked on a wide range of very exciting projects, mainly at the initial stages of design strategy, concept and preliminary design. It was a brilliant opportunity to try out new things and I was able to work closely with potential suppliers to test the equipment to ensure that only the latest and most capable technology was used in our designs.”
Every project that Chris has worked on at Atkins has been very different and he feels that starting on a new project is almost like starting a whole new job and this keeps things fresh.
Having been on the scheme for almost four years he’s reaching the end, which means it’s soon time to apply via the IET for CEng status, and he believes the variety of projects he’s worked on mean he’s in the perfect position to prove his ability.
“I’m currently working on a large multidisciplinary project. It’s the sort of thing that only a company like Atkins could take on due to the depth and breadth of skills required. I’m working in the control and instrumentation team, which means I’m working on all the clever electronic systems that will be used across the development.
“This ranges from building controls, IT infrastructure and a number of essential safety systems. It’s challenging, varied and is helping me to pick up a wide range of competencies that will help me towards achieving my Chartered status,” he notes.