Career path – Tom Sturman, Bechtel

Bechtel’s Tom Sturman shares his experience of developing a career in rail and how a Top Gear style cool wall set him on the route to being an engineer.

Why did you decide to go into engineering/infrastructure?

I undertook a work experience placement with a pharmaceutical company during year 10, whilst studying for my GCSEs. The engineers there inspired me with their enthusiasm and drive to solve engineering challenges. Weekly team meetings between the client and contractor alliance always started with a Top Gear style “cool wall” review of each member of the team before leading into discussions of technical issues. From that point forward I tailored my ‘A’ level subject choices based on my interests and strengths so I could study engineering.

What did you study? How did that lead to this career?

I completed ‘A’ Levels in Maths, Physics and Geography and an AS level in Business Studies. Whilst in sixth form, I undertook a weeklong head start course, which showcased the different engineering disciplines on offer at university. I found the civil engineering aspect to be the most interesting, particularly the task where as part of a small group I had to design and construct a bridge made from balsa wood in order to meet a stringent set of client’s requirements. This led to me applying to study and subsequently completing a masters degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Nottingham.

Who was your first employer and why?

My first employer (apart from weekend work as a pot washer at the local restaurant!) was Bechtel, which I was attracted to due to the sheer scale of projects on offer and the opportunity to work overseas. I was offered a position as part of the company’s Early Career Hire programme whilst completing the final year of my masters degree. I am now into the third year of the four-year programme. The variety of roles and projects that I have worked on to date has given me the opportunity to develop and take on roles with lots of responsibility.

Did you have a career plan?

Yes. My plan was to work on some of the largest engineering and infrastructure projects in the world and eventually to project manage one. In the short term, my plan was to gain sufficient experience in order to gain chartered engineer status with the Institution of Civil Engineers (which Bechtel’s Early Career Hire Scheme helps prepare you for).  In reality the plan is still on track as I am now working on my second mega project, just two years since graduating! I am making good progress with achieving the required development objectives in order to become a chartered engineer. In order to realise my aspirations further I am looking for an international placement as my next role at Bechtel, as part of the  graduate programme. I hope this will help to further develop my skills and take me outside of my comfort zone.

What is good about Bechtel?

It is great working for Bechtel. The variety of work and size of projects is so exciting.I have worked on the successful proposal for the Vauxhall Underground Station upgrade project.  I also spent two years working on Crossrail on the Western Tunnels section of works and I am now working on the design for the Riyadh Metro Project.

Although Bechtel is a large company (more than 50,000 employees) it still feels like a family. Initiatives such as NextGen (an employee resource group for those in the early stages of their career) allowed me to settle into the company and to quickly build a network of peers and friends. Bechtel also supports a number of stewardship activities that I have been involved with, including Engineers Without Borders and STEMnet. It’s great that the company supports initiatives that have allowed me to give something back to societies that need engineering skills like mine, and to also help inspire future generations of engineers.

Who has had the most influence over your career and why?

My family. Without their constant encouragement and support I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What about work gets you interested, keeps you interested?

Due to the size and variety of projects I have worked on, there are always different challenges that need to be worked through and resolutions found.  Opportunities to develop and work outside my comfort zone on mega projects around the world will continue to keep me in this industry.

What can employers offer to make you most happy in your career?

Working on large infrastructure projects both in the UK and internationally, where you feel really proud to be a part of them. I think it’s really important as well that employers should provide good training and roles which help you continually develop, both personally and professionally.

What is the one thing you have done that has been fundamental to driving your career?

Stay motivated when things don’t go to plan. If something has not worked out as I wanted, this has simply spurred me on to working harder and to achieving what I want from my career. This drive to succeed has got me to where I am today.

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