How to work our Grad Programme for all its worth
Louise Hetherington | Assistant Structural Engineer, Building Design
26 February 2019
In 2016 Louise joined Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group, as part of our Graduate Development Programme (GDP). Since then she’s been raising the bar on all expectations. We caught up with her to find what her secret is to enjoying so many amazing opportunities so early in her career.
What kind of work can a graduate engineer expect to do in their first two years at Atkins?
Here graduates are put onto real projects with responsibilities of their own from day one. The work is deeply collaborative – so just be interested in what everyone else is doing and you’ll be offered plenty of juicy and challenging opportunities. Every time I took on something new, I gained important new skills.
Just a year in I found myself project managing and working on a project for a major global aerospace player. Whilst on site, I outlined Atkins capabilities to the client and went on to prepare a fee proposal for further structural engineering and building surveying work. I subsequently won the structural work package. I maintained contact with the client in order to develop the relationship and now there’s further work for us in the pipeline!
You’re heavily committed to Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), tell us what drives you?
I strongly believe that no matter where anyone sits in an organisation, we’re all equally responsible for its outcomes. My personal Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) plan is based on employee wellbeing so I actively promote D&I. One of my main passions is to remove the stigma for colleagues struggling with mental health issues. I applied to become a Mental Health First Aider when the initiative was rolled out to our department and I’ve been one since July 2018.
Tell us about ENABLE and how you’ve been involved.
At the Atkins business there is always something exciting going on. ENABLE is one of them. It used to be called the Disability Network. It’s a friendly open forum that gets employees who are affected or moved by disability to share ideas, information and news. We talk about everything from caring and benefits to particular special needs’ issues.
I strongly believe in an inclusive culture for all so when the opportunity came up, I volunteered to sit on the committee. When we changed the name to ENABLE, I re-launched the network with a Carers’ Awareness event on National Carers’ Week. I’m now the events’ organiser, logging events in other offices as well as organising events here in Bristol.
Congratulations on your role as National D&I Champion for Infrastructure – how did this come about?
I volunteered to help create a film to highlight how Atkins is an inclusive employer. Typically at Atkins one thing often leads to another and if you show an interest in something, the sky’s the limit.
I’m currently sitting on the D&I Inclusion Steering Committee, working alongside senior members to roll out the 2016-2021 D&I Action Plan. Through this exciting role I’ve drafted Diversity Moments which are five minutes learning vignettes to use in meetings. I’ve started to identify inconsistencies with job descriptions and grades within infrastructure. And I’ve begun to outline a programmed called, Accelerating Women’s Career Paths.
You joined the Employee Engagement Forum (EEF) last year, what are some of your highlights?
When I joined Atkins I was impressed by how important staff happiness is to the business. In line with my HSSE plan, I wanted to find out more and become involved in what made this part of Atkins tick.
I just kept asking questions until I met the right people and boom! I found myself helping to organise the nominations for an EEF staff event in Bristol. At that event I was elated to win the Office Champion Award for my work with D&I, STEM and Employee Well-Being.
In this role I’ve recently been tackling retention issues by making it easier to nominate and celebrate staff for our Amazon Reward Recognition Scheme. I’ve done this by creating a simple digital nomination process using Office365.
You’ve been involved in some very exciting work in STEM. Tell us more…
I’m a STEM Coordinator for the Hub, organising work experience placements and other activities with local schools. We’ve set up the YES! Programme in Bristol, through which I ran the first session on Structural Engineering. This was great fun and saw a cohort of Year 8 students ‘graduating’ from the programme last summer.
I have also developed a strong relationship with the Olympus Academy Trust, through which I have engaged with the local Director for Teaching and attended business breakfasts. This allows me to regularly meet and encourage students, support the academy and collaborate with other local businesses.
One of my favourite projects was working with FiftyOne Films to create an animation aimed at 7-11 year old school children. It’s called Engine-Ears and was an innovative way to get pupils excited about careers in engineering. I also wrote the teachers’ activity packs which went to school with the clip.
Right now I’m helping with Curiosity Connections (CC) which aims to support the people who inspire STEM learning in the Bristol region. My role is to provide an industry viewpoint on the scheme that will help guide CC’s activities in local schools.
A little bird told us that you lead a double life. Tell us about your personal passions and how you manage to make time for them!
Thanks to the flexible working culture at Atkins, I’m able to pursue and achieve the things I really love. Outside of engineering, I’m a Dance Fitness Instructor and I run my own business (FitSteps) with two classes per week.
My other personal passions are engineering related. (Naturally!) In September 2017 I became an Ambassador for the Queen Elizabeth Prize (QEPrize) for engineering. Through this I attended a workshop that explored perceptions of engineering, and helped to edit Create the Future 2017, an international report on attitudes to engineering.
One of my big highlights in 2017 was going to Buckingham Palace where I met Prince Charles during the awards ceremony. I received a great deal of support from Atkins so I went representing the company. I also attended the Royal Academy of Engineering 2018 Awards at the Tower of London as part of the QEPrize team.
On the side, I also enjoy writing LinkedIn articles that discuss D&I, STEM and perceptions of engineering with a global audience.
Wow. Just two years and you’ve already had a whirlwind career, how did you collar so many great opportunities?
It might sound funny to say, ‘EASY’ – but at Atkins it is. At my first GDP event we were told, ‘Take every opportunity’. I did just that.
Find out how you can also give your career an extraordinary start here.