Our Associates in Lockdown

These short essays by four of our Associates reveal the day-to-day impact that Covid-19 has had on their working lives. We have a growing cohort of Associates drawn from prizewinners in one of the many award schemes funded by the Engineers Trust. They are outstanding examples of the future of engineering.
Liveryman James Dickaty

Khouloud El Hakim won the Young Engineer of the Year competition in 2018. The award is organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering and funded by the Engineers Trust. Khouloud as overall winner also received the Sir George Macfarlane Medal for excellence in the early stage of her career. She is a project manager with Bechtel.

Khouloud El Hakim While most people in Saudi Arabia stayed at home during the lockdown, most of the staff on the Riyadh Metro Project carried out their usual work duties. We were granted permits after a couple of days from the start of the lockdown and were going about our life as usual. It seemed a bit weird talking to friends and family struggling with staying at home; for me, life was more busy than ever! The structure I have set up for my 4-year-old disappeared overnight with no school and no after school activities. We are lucky to have full time help, but having to work when your little one is at home is far from ideal, especially when we could not fly in any of our family members to help, as we usually do. I work more in the evenings now, to be able to spend as much time as I possibly can with my daughter during the day, before going to work and after coming back. Being the only woman on the project in a management role with a young family, I experienced first-hand just how much flexibility at work is a foreign concept in the construction industry, especially in the Middle East! But I was impressed with how the leadership team on the project adapted quickly to cater for the health situation and support young families. Yes, you can’t build a metro remotely; but this imposed situation proved that a lot of people can be as, if not more productive, when given the flexibility and the trust to perform their tasks without the need to be sat in the office for 10 hours a day. I hope that, well after the pandemic is over, this imposed situation creates a shift in the working culture in the industry and the region, that is desperately needed!

Junior Under Officer Elizabeth Nuttall won the Services Engineering Postgraduate Award in 2019 for outstanding performance on her MEng in Mechanical and Materials Engineering at the University of Birmingham. Her research considered the challenges of characterising high temperature crack growth after inertia friction welding of next generation nickel disc superalloys. She is now sponsored by Rolls Royce to continue her research as part of a PhD programme within the University of Birmingham.

With the university shutting its doors to all students and staff, I find myself hurtling towards the end of the second year of my PhD at home. The change in circumstances has forced a shift from experimental work, to carrying out analysis and writing; I had been avoiding this and so perhaps this is a blessing in disguise. Without the office environment I am feeling a little disconnected from the workplace: the solo nature of a PhD means that aside from catching up with my supervisor, there isn’t a need for connecting. To fulfil my need for human interaction, I have fabricated myself a new social life in the evenings featuring games of online Pictionary and pub quizzes with colleagues and friends. My usual frenetic lifestyle has been pushed aside without social commitments and travel, and I have more free time than I have ever had. I am finding time to exercise and be creative, and whilst I hope to maintain some of this calmness in our ‘new normal’, I cannot help but believe I will be whisked away into a happy chaos at some point in the future. Elizabeth Nuttall

Dilani Selvanathan won an IET Horizons Bursary in 2017 funded by the Engineers Trust. She is now a software engineering degree apprentice at the BBC.

As an apprentice, I usually don’t work from home so being under lockdown was a new experience for me. A week after lockdown I had to move into a new team and so there was a lot of learning and setting up online. I also had University during the initial stages of Coronavirus and all the lectures moved online with coursework deadlines and exams being delayed. It was quite worrying at the start as everything was different and I didn’t even get the chance to meet members of my team in person, making it difficult to engage with them. I don’t have an office space at home, so I use the living room and sit on the sofa to do work. There were a lot of new things to adapt to like working with family around and communicating with colleagues via message or virtual calls. Despite all this, there are certainly some “benefits” such as not needing to pay for travel and not needing to wake up as early!

Braiden Zhawi won the Cadzow Smith Engineering Award in 2016 for excellence on an accredited undergraduate engineering course conducted at one of eleven universities within London and the Home Counties. He is now a section engineer on the HS2 rail project.

I remember seeing a league table published in 2016 (by the Harvard Business Review and McKinsey) ranking sectors on how digitally advanced they were. Construction was at the bottom, beating only Agriculture and Hunting. At the time I agreed with the league table, however, the lockdown has shown me how far my sector has come in adopting technology. My employer, EKFB, is a joint venture made up of parent companies from the UK, France, Spain and the Netherlands with colleagues living all across the UK and parts of Europe, however, even though we are miles apart physically, our output has remained consistent throughout the lockdown. Through the use of technology we’re still able to conduct team meetings, review documents and collaborate electronically. I don’t think this experience is unique to EKFB, speaking with friends at other civil engineering firms it’s clear that the sector at large has turned a page in adopting technology. We all agree that the source of this improvement has also been due to the transformative effect of clients, like our client HS2, who encourage their contractors to integrate technology within their operations. As of April 15th we entered Stage 2 of our contract which is focused on delivery, I am excited to see us continue to leverage technology and integrate it further into our business operations, making it the new normal.