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Insights Building our future, from the ground up

When we think of infrastructure we often think of the buildings, roads and railways above the ground – but what about what lies within the ground itself? Geotechnical engineering is fundamental to infrastructure, yet often falls below the radar. Geotechnical Engineer Emmanuel Onumah talks about the differences big and small we make as engineers. 
image of Emmanuel smiling
What is your role at the moment and what does it entail?

I am a Geotechnical Engineer, working with the ground engineering team based in Birmingham. I am currently on site working on the M6 Smart Motorway Scheme Jct 13-15. My role is as a geotechnical auditor in the site assurance team as well as working as part of the Inspection Quality Verification Team (IQVT) inspecting the construction of the earthworks, retaining walls and structure foundations. 

Was there a definitive moment that steered you towards a career in infrastructure?

There have been two key moments that have steered me to where I am now. In secondary school I was involved in a weeklong project to design and build a small-scale house. I really enjoyed learning basic design procedures and getting my hands dirty building the frame of the house and laying bricks. I particularly liked demolishing the house afterwards. And during my third year at university our design project was to design part of HS2. This was a whole new challenge for us, going through the design process from outline design and gave me a really good idea of the type of work engineers conduct every day. 

Why do you think it’s important to work and learn about it?

Working in infrastructure is very important as it plays a such a key role in all our lives. It provides fundamental structures for how we live and work, now and in the future.

Who has inspired you in your studies and starting your career?

My uncle was a civil engineer and one of my role models. I have always enjoyed finding out how things are made (How it’s made was one of my favourite TV shows), and a career in engineering has helped me to become a part of that process.

What are you finding the most interesting; challenging; rewarding so far?

The role I’m currently in working on site is a completely new challenge for me; there is always something new to learn and I’m enjoying the fact there is a different challenge each day. One of the things I’m also finding rewarding is being part of the Embrace Network committee, working to better understand the challenges facing employees from minority ethnicity groups and influencing the business to achieve its ED&I goals. 

How do you think we can educate and encourage younger generations about this work? What methods do you think work best?

I think it’s important to engage with the younger generation as soon as possible to get them interested and invested in the industry, as infrastructure plays such a big role in all of our lives. Engaging more in STEM activities, as well as building on our relationships with schools and universities, will help to inform the younger generations of these challenges – which can help develop new and innovative solutions.

What would (or even do) you personally say to younger people interested in it?

I typically tell them to be inquisitive, ask questions and read as much as you can about the industry and new developments. I also encourage them to take every opportunity available. Work experience and apprenticeships are great ways of finding out more about the industry and what you enjoy doing.

How do you feel about being a part of future-focused work?

We are facing a lot of challenges including improving the sustainability of our projects and the efficiency of our existing assets, as well as adapting to life during and post-Covid. Undoubtedly, advances in technology will play a big role in helping achieve these goals, and I’m excited to see how we utilise this to improve the infrastructure, and world, around us.