What do people picture when they’re thinking about a career in engineering? Lengthy days spent in overalls working on heavy machinery, with short breaks to ponder complex mathematical or geometrical equations? Well, machinery and maths may play a part in their roles, but Becky Threlfall and Keir Gravil, engineering consultants at Frazer-Nash Consultancy are keen to show that the work of the profession goes far beyond that. With no two days the same, we discuss the diversity that an engineer’s day delivers.
So Keir, how did your day begin?
Well, first I checked my emails from yesterday evening. Amongst them was an enquiry from The Ship Owners’ Club. We’ve been discussing a ship survey – in my role as a Naval Architect I’m involved in all kinds of marine engineering, from design and construction, to salvage – and they asked if I could arrange a site visit. I emailed my contact suggesting some potential dates to meet, then responded to a couple of other emails asking for information about my projects.
Becky, did your day start in a similar way?
Yes, a quick check over my emails and yesterday’s to-do list was my first job too. After that I had a 9am meeting with our structural engineering group leader. We were discussing a new client – someone I met at a conference last week, who was keen for us to look urgently at a problem they were having with a key component of one of their electrical distribution business’s assets.
My background is in electrical network modelling, but from my initial discussion with the customer, it seems that the failure of this component is likely to have a structural cause. So we agreed that one of the structural experts will join me at the meeting I’ve scheduled with the client for tomorrow, with a view to advising on the proposal we’ll be putting forward to them to resolve their issue.
Does your role involve contact with clients too, Keir?
Very much so, both in providing technical solutions and developing business – I’d say it’s split about 50/50 along those lines. One day I could be doing some technical assessments looking at naval vessels; the next, I could be going out meeting potential clients in the commercial shipping sector. I really love the variety, because it gets you involved in so many different areas of the business, and also of the industry.
For me, one of the things I like best about consultancy is that you’re in control of getting the work in as well as actually performing it. So you can go for the win-win – work that really interests you and that you enjoy, but that also pays your wages. It gives you full ownership of the project you’re doing, as you’re there from start to end.
Becky, is your role split across business and technical solutions in the same way?
Yes, I recently moved into a business-focused role, having previously worked primarily on delivering technical projects. But I’m still using my technical expertise. This afternoon, for example, I started to write a summary paper of the safety cases surrounding a long-term programme of electrical transmission system modifications. Some of the modifications have been extensive, and I’ve been considering whether the grid reconfigurations might affect reliability, or even whether some of the new power electronic equipment could cause sub synchronous oscillation of nearby generating units. Thankfully, it has been easy to demonstrate no significant effects!
To finish the day it was back into business-mode. I had a catch-up call with the Frazer-Nash and client project managers on work we’re doing, helping to evaluate an innovative product that an energy company is developing. I checked that the job is going well, and whether the client needed any additional support from us. We discussed a potential future extension of the contract, to produce a safety case for the product once it’s at a suitable stage of technical readiness. I also made sure that the customer had received our latest invoice and that there weren’t any queries about the payment. Then it was time to finish promptly to go and play five-a-side football with some colleagues from the office.
What was next on your to-do list, Keir?
Well, today I’ve been working on a big bid for the nuclear sector. Despite my background, not all the business development with which I’m involved is to do with the maritime industry! There are crossovers in the skills needed to write bids for any sector of course – knowing how to budget properly, working out costings, managing stakeholders. I’m finding that I’m able to bring across the knowledge I’m learning on this bid, and apply it to other bids within the marine sector.
Are you also involved in bids, Becky?
Yes, frequently. Just yesterday I reviewed our bid for a role on a large framework with a new client. The deadline for submission is at the end of the week, so I’m checking that all of the commercial aspects of the bid are OK before it goes to my manager for approval. It’s a real team effort – from the relevant technical teams who write case studies and select personnel to meet the detailed requirements, to the contracts team who make sure we have the right insurances and can meet the terms and conditions of the framework, to the review and approvals team who ensure we’ve followed all the necessary quality procedures.
Then, looking at it from the other side, we’re working with another company to help us deliver a separate contract, which requires speaking to our procurement team. They’re helping me to draw up the agreement that we’ll be contracting with our partner for the work.
You’re both involved in developing the next generation of engineers. Keir, can you tell us more about your role as a mentor?
Yes, I’m mentoring one of Frazer-Nash’s graduate engineers, based in Australia. We discuss his career plans, and the steps he’s taking towards applying for chartered status from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). One of the key pieces of advice I give to all my mentees is that they’re going to learn something from every project they work on – even when it diversifies from their original technical discipline. It’s something that worried me when I started my career: that I might somehow ‘lose’ my expertise when working on projects in other areas. But it doesn’t do that at all, in fact, even work that didn’t seem particularly relevant at the time helped develop my skills in managing people, and time, and projects.
Becky, you’re a STEM ambassador, what does that entail?
I attend events that help show young people the multitude of real-world applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. I recently took part in running workshops at a ‘Your Green Future’ event in Powys, where we helped children explore sustainability in innovation, business, waste, energy and urban design. I think investing in future generations is a really important part of being an engineer. I also enjoy taking part in student recruitment, visiting universities to tell students about careers in engineering – because as just our ‘day in the life’ accounts show, it’s a varied, challenging and diverse job!