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Paul Thurlow

Age: 39, estimator, Bachy Soletanche, UK

Route to the job
I got involved in geotechnics through a work placement in a materials lab, which led to five years working in the Middle East as lab technician and then as a driller for a site investigation company. I returned to the UK as a trainee engineer with Bachy and got experience in setting up a precast pile factory, site management, PDA and CAPWAP pile testing. Although I've never studied civil engineering in a formal sense, Bachy gave me experience in engineer and project manager roles. Real-time monitoring and compensation grouting experience from JLE 101 led to a position as settlement control engineer for the Copenhagen Metro project, and when this finished I transferred to Hong Kong to work for Bachy Soletanche subsidiary, Sol Data. Roles there included estimating, marketing, implementing ISO certification, setting up and managing a fully accredited pile and foundation testing division. My background is unusual, in that I entered the industry as a lab technician and my development has been through "on the job" experience. I have however found the time to study through the Open University with courses in natural science, earth science and project management. I was delighted to be part of the wining team of the inaugural Fleming Award 2000 and also a GTM innovation award 1997. I've also published eight papers on diverse geotechnical subjects. I'm now back in the UK after a real reduction in projects in Asia - which is allowing a return to a more settled life for my family. I find estimating a perfect way to harness the experience gained on site, technical knowledge and fine-tuning marketing and management skills. It is a key part of a successful company, and has always been an interesting field for me.

Typical day
It's busy and never the same, depending on the complexity of the tender. An estimator interacts with both the design team and site very closely. Much of the site part comes from actually running contracts and knowing the capabilities of the site team and the plant, plus the performance of subcontractors. The design element is also based on previous experience, knowing how different soils react, what technique is applicable, what is practical to build, safety aspects etc.

Highs and lows
I like the good working atmosphere, talking with clients and winning a contract. I dislike losing a contract, very tight tender returns - and finding no borehole information within a tender document.

Ambitions
Next year, I'm hoping to get chartered with the Institution of Civil Engineers, taking the mature route. For this, you need to provide a technical report synopsis together with your detailed CV and the backing of at least four members. If the application is approved, you then send a full technical report, which details your engineering achievements, an additional experience report and a record of CPD training. The final stage in the process is a one-day interview, in which you are grilled on both academic and professional issues.

Advice
Always remember the methods you learn, as you never know when you will be called to use them in the future, no matter how insignificant you find them at the time. Never be afraid to ask and always keep an open and interested mind. Attitude is as good as aptitude in some cases. Be diverse in your field, it can lead to many interesting opportunities.