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"Last year I was fortunate enough to travel abroad with Atkins."
Name: Will Sharpe
Business area: Energy
Years into GDP: 2.5
University and degree: Newcastle University, Chemical Engineering
What are the benefits of doing a placement at Atkins? How does it prepare you for the GDP?
Spending a year on placement I was exposed to a lot of new technical skills, software and projects that my time at university couldn’t have prepared me for. However, I think it was the soft skills that I learnt whilst on my placement that prepared me well for the GDP. It is the little things like how to sign off an email, how to contact clients and how to pull professional presentations together that I developed skills in. For many, a placement is their first experience in a professional environment and there are a lot of things to learn from day one. I found that everyone was very supportive throughout and are aware that you may not have been in a workplace quite like this before.
I was fortunate enough to have my placement split across two teams which meant I had a great experience of different technical roles which then led me to choose the team that suited me best: both professionally and socially. I remember that relaxed feeling I had on my first day on the GDP walking through the office stopping and speaking to colleagues I had previously worked with. Again, I was made a very welcome member of the team from day one.
What advice would you give others looking to get the most out of their placement?
Be prepared to make mistakes.
Even though I had spent three years at university honing my technical development I realised early on into my placement that I still had an awful lot to learn. However, this should not intimidate anybody as placements are a great opportunity to learn and develop, just in a different setting to the lecture halls we are used to. I experienced a perfect balance on my placement of responsibility on large projects and an understanding from my colleagues that I had no experience in the industry. Yes, I had experience performing calculations and writing reports, but not quite in the same vain as the professional setting. I made mistakes, I made a lot of mistakes and I learnt very quickly that it was best to manipulate how you perceive mistakes you make. An error you’ve made in a calculation, software modelling or even writing an email to a colleague is an opportunity to learn and generate processes to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. Fortunately, in a workplace like Atkins everyone has the same mentality towards personal development and everyone is very understanding (especially of the fresh-faced students!).
The learning opportunity that placements create is invaluable experience and you should take advantage of those around you to help you develop. Ask questions – if you don’t know something just ask, there are so many people willing to make time for you in their day.
What’s been your highlight on the graduate development programme so far?
Last year I was fortunate enough to travel abroad with Atkins, I probably wouldn’t call it exotic but certainly good fun and that was Kazakhstan. These days you mention Kazakhstan to someone and they immediately think of a moustached man wearing a rather fetching bathing suit. Well I can tell you the Republic of Kazakhstan has a lot more to offer than that.
If you travel all the way across Europe you will eventually meet the Caspian Sea, which is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth and deep at the bottom of the Caspian is an abundance of oil. In 2000 this oil field, called Kashagan, was discovered and excited a lot of people in the Oil & Gas industry as it was the largest discovery for 30 years. With various issues regarding start-up, the project was delayed and our clients over in Kazakhstan needed adhoc technical safety support ASAP. This created a great opportunity for me as I was asked last minute to jump on a flight to a country I knew very little about and travel to provide support in their offices abroad.
I ended making the same trip three times last year and the project work I was involved in has helped me develop technically at an astonishing rate. However, the opportunity to immerse myself in clients' offices was the cherry on the cake as I learnt how important it is to build strong working relationships.