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Esther Olorunfemi

Esther Olorunfemi

head of engineering, London Trams, Transport for London (TfL)

Expertise

Design

Location

United Kingdom
Career highlights

Designed a water treatment and supply plant for rural communities in Trinidad & Tobago

Mentored ICE graduates who've all won awards on their training scheme

TfL's first Black, female ICE fellow, and the UK's second

A day in my life

My days start with an email purge, flagging those that require action and filing those which are just for information.

One of the many advantages and interesting challenges of working in an operational business is that no two days are the same.

I have days where I can catch up on actions, some where I spend most of the day in meetings and occasionally some where the day is spent responding to an operational or maintenance incident.

The latter will start with a review of the fault log from the previous day’s service. From there, I’ll identify and investigate asset failures which appear to be repeat incidents.

This could be a safety concern or result in the asset becoming unavailable for service for a prolonged period.

Depending on the situation, my investigation could include:

  • Recommended changes to a maintenance activity/periodicity
  • Risk assessments to determine whether a safety concern exists
  • Commissions for a workstream to deploy a fix or modification to the failed asset

On the days when I’m in meetings, I lead in ensuring engineering governance and technical impacts are understood, integrated, and delivered in the outcomes of decisions made by other departments (safety, commercial & procurements, fleet & infrastructure maintenance, and renewal projects).

Without the civil engineer, there’s little to nothing that can be built!

Which individual project or person inspired you to become a civil engineer?

My dad. He was a college and university maths lecturer. He spotted not only my aptitude and love for all things numerical, but also my interest in understanding how things were assembled.

Unfortunately, in school, there was no guidance, support or awareness of engineering as a profession. No information on how my interests and abilities could be used towards this or any other career.

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because …

…you provide the assets that enable society to do the things we all take for granted.

Assets that give us access to clean drinking water, let us travel from A to B, and provide the structures where we live, work, receive medical care and partake in leisure activities.

What’s the biggest/most complex thing you’ve made out of Lego? How long did it take you?

I would frequently build and refine the tallest building and the longest spanning bridge I could put together.

I recall adjusting the Lego sizes or the number of pieces needed at the bottom of the structure to create the optimal conditions between my end goal and my ‘builds’ not collapsing.

Complete this phrase: I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also …

On a personal level, I'm also a mother, a personal mentor, and a fitness instructor. On a professional level, I'm also an integrator, a delivery manager, and a leader.

What about being a civil engineer gets you out of bed each morning?

The reach of our discipline and the ability to directly impact and improve the lives of the public. In my current role I do this through providing the engineering needed for a reliable transport system.

What’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry?

It wasn’t clear to me until I joined the profession how pivotal civil engineering is. Not just with the many assets and systems we must integrate, but because it’s also where change starts.

Without the civil engineer, there’s little to nothing that can be built!

Which civil engineering project (past or present) do you wish you’d worked on?

The Shanghai Tower and the Akashi Kaikyo in Japan. They’re not the tallest or the longest, but aesthetically, I find they’re both the type of structures that people immediately know of.

Name one civil engineering myth you’d like to bust.

As a civil engineer, all you’ll do is structural analysis and draw bending moment diagrams.

What are you doing to help fight against climate change?

In my current role, several assets have expired lifespans and require renewal. I’m specifying sustainable materials, which have a longer life span and require little to no maintenance.

Also, within requirements for new equipment, I’m specifying that energy use must be lower than that of our current equipment.

Any hobbies or personal causes?

I’m a personal mentor, offering career advice and helping young adults write their CVs.

I’m an ICE supervising civil engineer for the ICE Training Scheme and a mock reviewer for candidates planning on sitting their professional review.

I’m a member of TfL’s Female’s in Transport Engineering (FiTE) committee, where I help to create and drive initiatives for women working technical roles.

We help them reach their engineering potential and provide them with the tools and support to do so.

In the evenings and weekends, I’m a fitness instructor at my local gym.

Esther's career path

I took a long educational route, which started with a general overview before I focused on civil engineering:

  • Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in construction and land use: this gave me my first insight into all the possible career choices in the field of construction.
  • Higher National Diploma (HND) in civil engineering: my first introduction to the profession (I opted for the HND in lieu of A-levels as I wanted a more focused and practical engineering learning experience).
  • Degree in civil engineering at South Bank Polytechnic/University: this provided the theory behind the HND.
  • Master's degree in systems engineering management at University College London: undertaken after recognising the importance which the engineering industry had come to see in integration.

My career journey started with a year in industry on a construction site as part of my degree.

I then worked for 10 years as part of an engineering consultancy, delivering designs for water treatments plant facilities in the UK. I spent another three years on site overseeing the construction of the designs I worked on.

I then moved into the public transport industry where I’ve worked my way up through the engineering hierarchy.

From managing the design integration for projects, to managing multiple projects and programmes, to head of engineering.

As head of engineering, I manage the entire engineering side for a transport operational business.

I manage the assets that are operating, those that are being maintained and those being renewed or replaced, all while ensuring the service isn’t affected.

Major projects

The most notable and sizeable programme I've worked on was the introduction of the new S7 and S8 vehicles on the London Underground subsurface lines and replacement of the signalling system.

As a collective, this was more commonly known as the Sub Surface Railway (SSR) Upgrade Programme (SUP).

As part of the SUP, I worked on five significant enabling programmes in project engineering (PE) roles.

From managing the design integration for a single project, to lead project engineer (LPE), where I continued to manage design integration for several projects and also managed PEs. Then I became principal project engineer (PPE), leading a programme of multiple sub programs.

The five enabling programmes are:

  1. Correct side and selective door enabling as PE
  2. Platform camera for one person operational mode as PE
  3. Platform extension and stopping position to enable longer trains to operate as LPE
  4. Track layout remodelling as LPE
  5. Platform train interface as PPE