In 2007, I worked on the feasibility study for the Network Rail Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Plan (EGIP)
In 2015, I was one of the temporary works coordinators on the EGIP and the Stirling Dunblane Alloa Electrification Project
I got to research and implement complex and innovative temporary works that have helped many projects
A day in my life
My work can be pretty varied.
Some days I visit a construction site, have a walk around with the temporary works coordinator and review how the team are performing against Kier’s temporary works procedures.
Other days I deliver training on temporary works either in a classroom environment, onsite or on Teams.
Sometimes I work from home and review tender submissions, give technical advice to colleges, update Kier’s procedures to match the latest industry guidance or even write industry guidance on behalf of the Temporary Works Forum (TWf – one of the ICE Technical Knowledge societies).
My work takes me all around the country. I often spend nights away in hotels or long periods of time driving my electric car or travelling on trains.
The travel is worth it though, because I get to see some pretty cool engineering and help my colleagues develop their temporary works skills.
I would’ve liked to work on Stonehenge or the pyramids in Egypt. Mostly to see how they constructed them and moved the heavy blocks. I would also be able to ask why on Earth they built them.
Which individual project or person inspired you to become a civil engineer?
I took part in the Scottish Space Schools programme in my 4th and 5th year of high school. I got to attend classes at Strathclyde University for a week with actual astronauts and engineers who worked for NASA.
One of the engineers gave a talk and each time someone asked a question or gave an answer to one of his questions, he handed out a crisp, shiny, new £5 note.
He talked about being an engineer and I thought, ‘wow this guy really loves his job and must make loads of money if he can give it away’. So, I thought I would make loads of money being an engineer.
Then my dad took me to see the Falkirk Wheel being built (a structure which connects two canals in Falkirk).
I remember he turned to me and said, ‘why don’t you do something like that for a living?’. So, I looked in a newspaper and saw there were more jobs for civil engineers than mechanical engineers (since civil and mechanical engineers built the Falkirk Wheel).
And that’s how I ended up choosing to study civil engineering at university.
We asked Jemma…
I would recommend a career in civil engineering because …
As a civil engineer you get to come up with innovative solutions to complex problems that most people don’t even know exist.
What’s the biggest/most complex thing you’ve made out of Lego? How long did it take you?
I built a crane out of Lego when I was preparing my attributes and experiential learning, which allowed me to go for professional review with the ICE.
I would allow myself to do one stage of it as a reward for hitting a milestone such as signing off my attributes and then signing off my experiential learning submission.
It took me a year, but it kind of spurred me on as I could see it physically take shape as my professional review submission took shape.
It was a physical reminder of how well I was progressing.
Complete this phrase: I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also…
A scientist, an explorer, a dreamer, a sister, a daughter, an adventurer, a sci-fi geek, a book worm, a foodie, and a down-to-earth normal person just like you.
What about being a civil engineer gets you out of bed each morning?
Helping people. For example, by building vital infrastructure such as a water treatment plant for clean water or a bridge to help someone cross an obstacle.
I like helping people reach their goals and site teams carry out temporary works safely.
What’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry?
Temporary works. I’d never heard of the term until I started working onsite.
Temporary works is an ‘engineered solution’ used to:
- help support or protect a structure during its construction or demolition (such as propping of facade retention), or
- support an item of plant or equipment (such as crane platforms and welfare cabin foundations), or
- support the side of an excavation/ trench (such as trench boxes), or
- provide access (such as scaffolding or mobile elevating work platforms [MEWPS]).
It can be removed or left in place after the permanent works are completed. It can also be how we sequence the permanent works installation or demolition.
In essence, everything we do on a construction site is temporary works. Each item is like a mini project going through a full design cycle.
Coming up with a solution for how you build something can often be more complex than designing the actual permanent works item to begin with.
Name one civil engineering myth you’d like to bust.
That it’s just a bunch of sweaty, hairy, unintelligent, old men brick laying.
In fact, it’s a collection of people from all backgrounds, ages, genders, and races coming together to create vital infrastructure.
Has civil engineering helped you overcome any personal or professional challenges/difficulties?
I had real difficulties in English class when I was young, especially with reading and writing.
I had to have a scribe type some of my answers because my spelling and grammar were so bad.
When I started working, my senior engineers/bosses helped me practice and improve my writing by marking my emails and reports before they were submitted.
With encouragement and using word processors on the computer, I got better at it. Also, going through the ICE IEng and CEng route and writing reports every three months also helped.
I was also really shy and the people I worked with helped me come out of my shell.
Any personal causes or hobbies?
I’m a director of the Temporary Works Forum (TWf - a Specialist Knowledge Society of ICE). Our aim is to make our industry safer by training people on temporary works, writing technical guidance and hosting debates where people can discuss how we can make our industry safer.
In my spare time I play Dungeons and Dragons, which is a game where someone tells a story, and you play a character in that story. I enjoy it because I get to hang out with my friends and be creative. It also allows me to develop new skills such as negotiation and strategy.
Jemma's career path
I wanted to take tech studies at high school, but my teachers encouraged me to take business management instead (as it would clash with music in my timetable, and I was already playing the cornet by that time).
Ironically my sister took tech studies but went on study business management.
I studied civil engineering at the University of the West of Scotland and went on two summer placements.
I applied for the graduate scheme with Morgan Est (now Morgan Sindall) a year early and because I’d worked with them during my second placement, they offered me sponsorship and a job when I graduated.
I worked for Morgan Sindall for nearly 10 years on projects throughout the UK.
I started as a graduate engineer at Heathrow Airport, then moved to Yorkshire and worked on sewage treatment works.
I took a design placement working on tunnelling projects such as Lee Tunnel and Crossrail before being promoted to section engineer and working on an electrical substation in North Wales.
I finally got a job back home working on Network Rail projects and then moved to BAM Nuttall when the work dried up in Scotland.
Unfortunately, I was then made redundant in early 2020. Well, actually, it was very fortunate because I managed to get the amazing job I now have as temporary works advisor at Kier, where I travel the country inspecting sites and training people on temporary works.
I’ve worked for Morgan Sindall on:
- Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 and Terminal 2
- Yorkshire Water framework
- National Grid Electrical Substations in St Asaph and Kendall
- Crossrail – as part of my design placement
- Lee Tunnel – as part of my design placement
- Network Rail’s Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Plan (EGIP) and Stirling Dunblane Alloa (SDA) – Where we replaced a dozen bridge decks, increased the length of platforms across several stations and worked on the Glasgow Queen Street Tunnel project as deputy temporary works coordinator (TWC).
Some of the projects I currently cover through Kier are :
- Paisley Museum
- High Speed 2 – three months as a TWC
- Citizen’s Theatre Project