Elliott Webb is an apprentice engineer in Arup’s Highways team. He is currently designing and modelling routes for the High Speed 2 (HS2) project.
Why did you first become interested in engineering?
When I was 11, I went on a family trip to France where we crossed the Pont de Normandie, a cable-stayed road bridge across the Seine. I was amazed by the engineering involved in such an impressive bridge and it sparked an interest about how things are made, designed and how they come to life. I’ve always liked the idea of being able to design something and then see it built; the thought of designing something in an office and then taking my family and friends to see it in real life was what first inspired me to become an engineer. I can’t wait to say to my family: “Look at what I’ve designed!”.
How did you get to where you are now?
Through his apprenticeship at Arup, Elliot Webb is gaining practical engineering experience
I knew I wanted to be an engineer from an early age, so I looked into what subjects I would need to do that. Maths and sciences seemed essential, and I’ve always been quite good at maths so that was an obvious choice. I ended up studying maths, physics, and business at A level. Business might seem like an odd selection, but it helped me to understand how companies are run and how an engineer’s everyday decisions can affect a company.
The thing that helped me most was doing a work placement at an engineering company. It was a small company, so I got a great understanding of how it worked from shop-floor to director level. I could take a step back and see how the whole company operated, and it gave me a good insight into what it’s like to be an engineer. I could speak to different engineers about what their day-to-day life was like, so learned about the different career directions I could choose. It also helped me in my interview with Arup, as I could bring along drawings that I’d done on an old-fashioned drawing board during the placement to demonstrate my work.
I chose to do an apprenticeship after speaking to engineers during my work placement. Many said that to be a truly good engineer, it’s important to have experience from the bottom upwards, which sometimes you don’t gain as an undergraduate. The apprenticeship will give me a qualification through college and university, and it’s all paid for. I can gain the knowledge that engineers need but can also learn technical skills, which I think is really vital. I will also be able to do a degree through Arup, but I wanted to have the practical experience first. I knew that I could go to university at any time, but I wanted to start work and know that I had a genuine passion for the job before committing to a degree.
How does the apprenticeship work?
The Arup apprenticeship works in two-year blocks. For the first two years, I’ve been working on gaining my BTEC Level 3 in engineering, and in September I’ll start my second two-year block, which will be working towards a Higher National Certificate in civil engineering. I spend one day a week going to college, and it can be quite challenging to balance the four days a week of office work with the one day of college plus assignments, presentations and reports. Arup has also recently added the option of staying on a further three years to incorporate a degree. I would like to do the full seven years – it sounds like a long time but it will take me from having zero experience to having a degree and seven years of experience working on projects. My degree will be civil engineering, but what you specialise in is based on your team, so mine will probably be highways related.
A computer-generated image of the HS2 project © Arup
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I think my biggest achievement has been getting the apprenticeship at Arup. Apprenticeships are competitive, so to get one with a big company is an achievement in itself. The opportunities that are now available to me because of this apprenticeship are phenomenal. To be working on HS2, which is the largest infrastructure project in Europe at the moment, at the age of 19 is amazing. I didn’t know what I’d be working on when I applied, so I was thrown in at the deep end on my first day. I feel really lucky to be working on such a landmark project, and to have designed things that are going to be used on HS2!
What is your favourite thing about being an engineer?
Every day is different – even when I’m working on a single project, I’m still never doing the same thing as tasks change as they progress. It’s never mundane. I’m always excited to get to work and get started on whatever I’m working on that day. It’s so important to love what you do, and I’m lucky enough to enjoy what I do every day.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I live about 30 miles away from work, so I get up early at about 5am. When I arrive, I talk to someone in the team to discuss the day’s tasks and timeframes, and think about the best way to go about my task for the day or week. Now I’ve been here for over a year I’m starting to get more responsibilities and gaining more trust, resulting in more varied and high-level work.
A typical task might be looking at re-routing the construction traffic from one road to another route. I would need to assess the existing roads and see if they allow for the proposed construction traffic. Having identified areas that are not to standard, I would then need to model the roads to make sure that they are suitable by completing a 2D horizontal and vertical alignment for the new road. Then I would use computer-aided design programmes to model it further in 3D, creating a corridor model, which is essentially the finished product that shows all the information about the road such as the carriageway, verge, earthworks and centreline.
What would be your advice to other people looking to pursue a career in engineering?
The best thing to do is to get a work placement, so that you can discover what type of engineering interests you. There are different routes into engineering, through degrees or apprenticeship, but there are also so many different types and disciplines within engineering. You can be site based or work for a contractor or a consultant; you could work in civil, chemical, environmental or nuclear engineering. It’s great to get experience so that you can narrow down the options. I got the work experience through school, but if your school doesn’t offer it, it’s worth trying to find a way of getting experience. A lot of bigger companies offer summer placements, which look great on applications for apprenticeships or universities, as work experience shows initiative and enthusiasm.
What’s next for you?
My next aim is to get some different experiences within Arup, for example getting out on site a bit more, or doing a rotation into a different discipline such as bridges to see how it interacts with highways. I’m also going to take part in the 2018 MERIT competition run by the Institution of Civil Engineers, which is an international construction business game that involves teams competitively running a construction company through a computer-based simulation. MERIT stands for management, enterprise, risk, innovation and teamwork, and the competition aims to enable young engineers to acquire these skills. I’m working with a team on that at the moment.
Qualifications: A levels in maths, physics and business
Biggest inspiration: Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Most-used technology: my computer
Three words that describe you: driven, reliable and approachable