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Navigating my civil engineering career via a family

01 December 2021

Claire Price shares how she's made the most of opportunities in the industry by planning ahead and provides useful tips for others developing their careers post-qualification.

Navigating my civil engineering career via a family
Being active on ICE committees has broadened Claire's network and opportunities. Image credit: Claire Price

Like many civil engineers, getting professional qualified with the ICE was a huge goal. I felt that my education wasn’t really complete until I had become chartered.

In the same year I sat my Professional Development Review, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations changed to include the role of principal designer and this was something I got involved with at the time I was preparing for my PDR.

I got an opportunity to assist a colleague who was working as a principal designer, and it was here I discovered it was the sweet spot for me – helping communicate design risks, working with a wide range of people and designing out issues that could cause harm.

It seemed like a great fit for me – using my communication skills and design experience to help keep people safe.

I was promoted to a senior engineer position when I had my Initial Professional Development (IPD) signed off, and then later received promotions to principal engineer then associate director in January 2020.

Today, I work part-time in the London office and from home (thanks to the pandemic). In my current role, I hold three main functions:

1) CDM (Construction Design and Management) 2015 principal designer for a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) based in North London, working with teams of engineers and designers to construct a safe waste operations facility on an existing waste operations site,

2) Health and safety lead for the Sustainable Infrastructure Group, supporting the health and safety needs of about 600 people across the UK, running training courses and various initiatives, and

3) a supervising civil engineer to Wood colleagues in the south of England, supporting apprentices completing their EngTech, all the way through to supporting graduates working towards their CEng review.

This role reflects the ‘sweet spot’, while also incorporating the opportunity to help others in their professional journey – something I really value and enjoy.

Be active in your institution

My involvement with the ICE has given me exposure to people and opportunities I wouldn’t have usually had in my day-to-day work life. It has broadened my understanding and appreciation of civil engineering and how a charity works.

I’ve also made friends for life through some of the committees I’ve been involved with.

I started getting involved with the ICE through the London Graduates and Students committee and then the London committee as the honorary secretary and regional representative for the ICE Council.

This enabled me to get involved in the UK Regional Affairs Committee and the presidential commission into the governance of the institution.

While on Council, I also became the Council representative on the Qualifications Panel and later joined the ICE H+S Expert Panel, which rebranded as the Safety, Health and Wellbeing Community of Practice – of which I am still an active member today. Earlier this year I was approached to join the ICE Audit Committee – a key position to help oversee the running of the institution.

Learning to say 'no'

I took a period of maternity leave in 2021. Before I did, I was encouraged to develop a ‘return to work’ plan, considering the type of work I enjoyed and what sort of role I wanted to come back to.

Now I've returned to work, I’m using the plan to make my part-time role full of the kind of things I enjoy.

To help my return to work, I reached out to the ICE Benevolent Fund, who kindly put me in touch with a career coach who specialises in helping women. With the career coach, I've had some really helpful discussions around setting boundaries for work and building my confidence to have honest conversations about my new role.

Having always been keen to say yes to every opportunity, it’s been a realisation that working part-time, I have to be more choosey about what I can get involved with. I cannot do a full-time role in part-time hours. I’m working on saying no to things, so I can do fewer things, but do them really well.

Coming back to the values, my interests lie in supporting the development of my early career colleagues, so continuing as a mentor and supervising civil engineer is important to me. I’m also still committed to helping improve the safety within the construction industry and waste operations, so my role as a CDM principal designer is strongly aligned to this cause.

Choosing the right opportunities

Achieving professional qualification is definitely cause for celebration. You don’t have to rush into finding what to do. Hopefully through your IPD you would have had a chance to try lots of different things and see what you like, and more importantly, what you don’t like. Go with what you enjoy and what aligns to your values.

Here are my tips on how to choose the right opportunities for you:

  • If you are struggling, I suggest you have a rough idea of what you want to get into, be it a technical specialist in a certain topic or more of a generalist, or site-based or whatever takes your fancy.
  • Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way that will help you progress in your chosen area.
  • You can’t do everything, so make sure the opportunities you accept are aligned to where you want to go. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
  • Often once your chartership is achieved, you may be offered a staff manager role at work as a way of getting a more diverse experience as well as developing ‘softer’ complementary skills to engineering. It’s rewarding to support and help others develop their careers – see it as an opportunity to be a cheerleader for people in your team. Be engaged and proactive and positive to help them thrive.
  • Ask for help and surround yourself with examples of people doing what you want to do. Is there someone who does something you think might be cool? Ask them about it! I am very fortunate to have an amazing network from within my workplace and the ICE network of incredible women who are working mothers. These ladies have been a huge support for me and full of ideas and tips. You aren’t the first person navigating this challenge – ask for support.

Please let us know your top tips for post-professionally qualified life!

  • Claire Price, Associate Director, Wood (London)