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How moving abroad got me out of a career rut 

06 March 2021

Jennifer Stables, ICE Fellow and senior project manager at AECOM Qatar, kicks off our new Women Like Us series with her story of how a recession-driven move across the world gave her career a huge boost.

How moving abroad got me out of a career rut 
Jennifer Stables designed and oversaw the construction of the Al Wahda Arches in Qatar. Image credit: Jennifer Stables

The biggest challenge I’ve faced (until COVID work from home) was probably the recession in the UK when I graduated in 2007. It was tough for everyone, as it really stagnated career progression. It meant that many of my friends and colleagues were made redundant, and it left people very uncertain. However, the challenges in career growth as we came out of that recession led me to apply to move abroad, which is the best decision I’ve ever made.

From the UK to the Middle East

I’ve worked with AECOM since the beginning of my career, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a range of experiences from a range of different geographies and work streams while staying within the same company. Having worked on the design of the Al Wahda Arches from the UK, in 2013 I made the move to Qatar in a more design management-focused role to witness and assist with the construction of my designs.

Despite the amazing honours of being voted one of the top ‘50 Women in Engineering’ by the Daily Telegraph in 2017, and, more recently, being elected as a Fellow of ICE, here in Qatar, just driving past the Lusail Artscape Arches every day and being able to mention them when people ask what I do is truly incredible.

Being open to different career paths

At the start of my career, I learnt a lot as a structural buildings engineer in AECOM’s London buildings team, working on a further education college, hospital, museum, and Crossrail.

It’s been extremely hard for me to get rid of my structural roots – as I strongly believe that being a technical engineer is something that people should feel incredibly proud of being. But I really do enjoy the project management work that I’m now doing.

In my current role, I work in project management and design management roles for large projects involving multiple international AECOM offices. I set up projects, produce plans and check the progress and finances. In addition, I manage the financial systems, ensure quality and lead the technical team meetings and client interface through execution, invoicing and project closure.

Working on mega projects

From Qatar, I’ve been lucky enough to work on some real mega projects, including the new airport extension, a new palace complex for the Emir (king), the Doha Oasis development, Qatar’s new port and construction, and beautification of highways. At AECOM, we are also having input into design of stadia for the World Cup, developments for the military, and the Public Works Authority’s schools programme, among other things.

Al Bayt Stadium construction site. Image credit: Jennifer Stables
Al Bayt Stadium construction site. Image credit: Jennifer Stables

Some truly inspirational work I have been involved with is on the Qatar IDRIS (Inner Doha Resewerage Implementation Scheme), MTS-01 and LIS-01 – two projects under one major programme.

Other work abroad

Inspired during time at Cambridge University with a grassroots charity in Northern Thailand installing a new water system for a hill tribe village, in 2012 I took the initiative to apply for Engineers Without Borders placements.

I was lucky enough to be awarded a placement with SAFE in Bangladesh and spent three months living in a rural cement hut developing structural capabilities and expertise of village and slum dwellers that self-build homes.

Dedicated to developing the construction profession

I'm also a keen advocate for the development of the construction profession, with a strong involvement with the Institution of Civil Engineers.

I’m the ICE Qatar representative and chair, and a delegated engineer supporting those seeking chartership; sat on the ICE Global Council for a three-year term; and chaired the London Young Members Committee.

In addition, I act as a patron for the TeamBuild cross-construction industry competition for young people, previously having acted as an organiser and trustee. I would highly recommend all young people in the industry consider entering

In Qatar, I run the Cambridge University Alumni Association, and also sit on the board of the Qatar-UK Alumni Association under the umbrella of the British Council, where we host Study UK Alumni awards, a great opportunity to encourage local people to get an engineering education in the UK and tie ICE into the wider business community.

In 2017, Jennifer was recognised as one of the top ‘50 Women in Engineering’ by The Daily Telegraph.
In 2017, Jennifer was recognised as one of the top ‘50 Women in Engineering’ by The Daily Telegraph.

My advice to those entering the profession

I have found many opportunities to develop my career in my own direction and my advice would be to enjoy your work and always make an effort to learn more about the industry.

For me, professional development is extremely important, so work immediately on your chartership and remember how diverse the career paths are in engineering, so seek the tasks that suit you.

Be open to opportunities that come your way. For me, moving to Qatar from the UK has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself and my career.

  • Jennifer Stables FICE, Associate Director at AECOM