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Helen Davis

Helen Davis

Engineering manager and lead supervising civil engineer, Binnies UK Ltd

Expertise

Design

Location

United Kingdom
My highlights

Making the WES Top 50 Women in Engineering 2024 list

Working on the River Thames Scheme, a nationally significant flood and climate mitigation project

Supporting well over a 100 people towards their professional qualification with the ICE

A day in my life

I have a hybrid working arrangement so I could be working in the office or from home, from a client’s office or even visiting the site of potential works.

My days often involve:

  • liaising with team members, technical specialists or clients
  • planning the next steps and delegating work
  • drafting reports
  • checking or reviewing calculations and drawings
  • meeting with people affected by the scheme, including local residents

After understanding the scale of a flooding problem and other considerations, I identify and assess options to address this.

There are always opportunities to learn, be it advances in technology, changes in construction techniques or the development of new materials.

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

There were really a number of people – from teachers at my all-girls school who encouraged me to consider a STEM career, to several people who worked across a variety of engineering disciplines.

Through discussions with them, I worked out that civil engineering was the career for me.

We asked Helen…

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because…

...of the variety. No two projects, or even days, are the same.

There are always opportunities to learn, be it advances in technology, changes in construction techniques or the development of new materials.

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

A team player, negotiator, mentor, organiser, problem solver and concept developer – and that’s just the day job!

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

I remember a few school holidays when I would build part of a village including houses, shops, cars and people.

It would grow larger each time another Lego kit arrived.

In the end it took a day or so to build, but this was then followed by a number of days of play.

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

Knowing that by providing essential infrastructure and reducing flood risk, what I do will enhance people’s lives, community and environment.

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

The range of people and perspectives needed to make up a successful project team and the value of working together to develop the best solution for everyone.

For me, teams can include:

  • technical specialists, such as hydrologists and geotechnical, structural, mechanical, electrical and process engineers
  • project managers
  • environmental scientists
  • ecologists
  • landscape architects
  • planners

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

Bazalgette’s sewerage system for central London – a huge undertaking that led to significant improvements in people’s health.

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

It’s not all about concrete and steel.

Engineering can be green, using natural, re-used or recycled materials, as well as restoring the environment and supporting biodiversity.

What are you doing to help address climate change?

Addressing the challenges of climate change is a key part of my day-to-day work as I seek to reduce flood risk.

It’s expected that the severity and frequency of floods will increase over time, something that I consider when developing and assessing flood risk management options.

I also think of how to reduce the use of natural resources and the whole life carbon footprint.

How has your work as an engineer enhanced the lives of people?

Reducing flood risk for people and businesses decreases the extent of flood damage and the need to repair buildings and replace household goods.

It also reduces the associated negative effects on mental health.

I’m also a mentor for Women in Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management, a networking group of professionals set up to support and connect women working in this sector.

I really enjoy being part of this initiative, encouraging women in a small group setting to gain confidence and fulfil their potential.

What motivated you to become professionally qualified? 

I first heard about the ICE while still at school and was encouraged to apply for a QUEST undergraduate scholarship – which I did and was successful.

This meant that I was aware of the professional qualification process from the very beginning of my career, and it was something that I was very keen to achieve.

What does being professionally qualified with the ICE mean for your career?

It's recognised globally as the achievement of a certain standard covering academic and practical experience.

Employers look for it on your CV as do clients as part of the bid process.

What’s the best thing about being professionally qualified with the ICE? 

Being part of knowledge sharing community and meeting like-minded people.

This includes not just finding out about the latest technology for my sector but being able to learn from other parts of the civil engineering industry in how they approach challenges.

How did the ICE and your employer support you to become professionally qualified? 

My company had an ICE approved training scheme, so I benefitted from the support and guidance of a mentor called a supervising civil engineer (SCE).

They also arranged formal and informal training as well as, nearer the time, a mock review.

What do you value most about being an ICE member? 

Besides the knowledge sharing, I really value supporting others in their professional development.

This is as a SCE, lead SCE heading up my company’s training scheme, and a reviewer.

I’m also co-chair of the Civil Engineering Employers’ Training Group, an established employer group supporting the delivery of best practice in civil engineering professional development in partnership with the ICE.

How has being a member helped your career? 

Networking, learning from others and the ability to access to a huge number of resources that are available (publications, live meetings/webinars or recordings of presentations).

Anything else?

For the past three years I've had the pleasure of being one of the judges for the New Civil Engineer and Construction News Inspiring Women in Construction and Engineering Awards.

Turning to hobbies, I enjoy a long distance walk and exploring new places.

Helen's career path

After A-levels, I completed a master’s degree in civil engineering at Queen’s University Belfast. During this time, I benefitted from the supported provided by an ICE QUEST undergraduate scholarship.

I moved to England for my first job with the consultant Binnie Black & Veatch, where I gained experience of the design and construction of projects across the water sector.

Following just under five years of post-graduate experience, I qualified as a Chartered Engineer and member of the ICE.

I’m still working for the same company, now Binnies, and progressed from civil engineer and senior civil engineer to engineering manager.

Major projects

Over the years I've usually worked on a number of small- to medium-sized flood risk management projects for towns, cities and river systems.

This has allowed me to be involved in lots of aspects, with each having their own significant and often complex challenges.

A major project that I am currently involved with is the River Thames Scheme.