Case study

Graduate civil engineer — Ayo Sokale

Ayo studied for a MEng in Civil and Coastal Engineering at Plymouth University. She now works for the Environment Agency (EA) as a civil engineer in flood and coastal risk management

How did you get your job?

While completing my degree, I undertook a year-long placement with global engineering company, CH2M. After this, I returned to university to complete my engineering degree with some useful experience in tow.

In my final year, in my tenure as president of the Civil Engineering Society, we hosted a careers fair and two Environment Agency graduate recruits attended. They shared their experiences with me and it really instilled in me the amazing work that the EA carries out, so I applied for a graduate role and was successful.

What's a typical day like as a graduate civil engineer?

I'm currently working on the design and management of a flood embankment in Mortimer and a fish pass in Oxford so my time is split. I was previously based on a construction site supervising the construction of a flood embankment in Thatcham.

I think that one of the best things about the job of a civil engineer is its variety. For example, some days I'm in the office writing a business case or organising planning and the next I'll be on-site speaking with contractors and undertaking surveying. That diversity of skills and competence means there is something to interest everyone. Right now I am enjoying getting involved with all of it.

What do you enjoy about your job?

What inspires me is the power of engineering to change and transform our lives. Being an engineer is part of how I attempt to live a purpose-driven life.

But my favourite part of the job is achieving outcomes for local communities - it's such a great feeling when a project has, for example, protected families from flooding.

What are the challenges?

The role of a civil engineer is to find solutions to problems and there are some big problems to be solved. For example, meeting the 17 UN Sustainable Goals. For a civil engineer the focus is clean water and sanitation, industry, innovation and infrastructure, sustainable cities and communities.

Though the goals are big and overarching, it's still the role of the engineer to problem solve, be it through their technical or logistical skills to make an impact.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree was a prerequisite for my employment. My employer, the EA, only employs academically qualified people onto their graduate training agreement.

How has your role developed?

A big highlight of my career so far was becoming one of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Future Leaders, affording me the opportunity to be mentored by the current ICE President. I'm incredibly lucky to work on some life-changing projects - including a report by the ICE into the Grenfell disaster that will help engineers and wider society improve building construction to ensure that a disaster like that never happens again.

I'm also working towards a CEng professional accreditation with ICE, which I think will put me in good stead in the future - whatever that might hold.

How do I get into civil engineering?

If you're considering engineering as a career, here are my top three tips:

  • Consider potential pathways and your learning style - Is university for you, or would you rather be an apprentice? Create a plan. It will help if you know what you want to achieve.
  • Get practical experience - Being passionate about it is a great start, but you will only develop that by doing. Think about an internship or work shadowing.
  • Always ask questions - Never stop learning. Essential to being an engineer is a desire to know, learn and solve problems. So think big.

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