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Insights Volunteer Days: developing the engineers of the future

Meet Alex, an infrastructure division Associate at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group. He's also extremely passionate about developing our industry's future talent. We recently caught up with him to find out what inspires him to volunteer as an interviewer for the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).Image of Alex

First off, what do you do at Atkins?
I'm a Principal ICA Engineer and Senior Project Manager. My role includes working as an Instrumentation, Control and Automation Engineer with UK Water Companies, mainly SCADA and Control upgrade projects.  I am also MEICA Lead on large Flood Defence Structures projects for the Environment Agency and an independent technical reviewer for colleagues' project work within Atkins. 

What keeps you at Atkins?
Besides the huge variety of exciting clients and projects, it's a diverse, supportive community where people really thrive. I think it's because the organization cares about what we care about. I was the first father in Atkins to take Shared Parental Leave on two occasions.  Atkins support flexible working, where colleagues and I work flexible work patterns, four days a week in my case. We're also encouraged to follow our professional and personal interests. For example, each employee in the UK receives two volunteer days a year to spend on the cause of our choice. 

What inspires you?
I love being able to give something back to engineering. I'm from a long line of engineers, so it's something that has had a huge impact on my family and me. I'm passionate about showing people the benefits of a career in engineering and developing the next generation of future engineers!

When did you first discover your interest in mentoring?
In 2008, I was mentored by experienced colleagues in Atkins, and I started mentoring my Atkins graduate colleagues in 2010. After I re-joined Atkins in 2013, younger colleagues were increasingly approaching me for informal and formal mentoring as they prepared their path to chartership. So, I began mentoring junior colleagues across our business. I wanted to make sure I could offer the right level of support, so in 2014 I did a mentoring course through the IET.

After a couple of years, I began to feel like I could be giving more back. So, I actually initiated this as part of my performance and talent review. Including this as an objective in my annual evaluation helped me to be held accountable for achieving it.

So, where will we find you on your Atkins Employee Volunteer days?
Well, mentoring is how all senior engineers learn and grow through their careers. So, you'll find me at the IET giving guidance, offering mentoring support to applicants, assessing applications and conducting professional registration interview (PRI) panels. 

Tell us a little about the IET and your involvement.
This excellent institution exists to inspire, inform and influence the global engineering community. They've been around for about 150 years, sharing knowledge to help us engineer a better world. 

I first became involved with the IET as a student in 1998. And in 2011, I achieved chartered status through them. When it comes to helping engineers prepare for their professional chartership interviews, the IET relies solely on volunteers with industry experience. For each individual professional registration or chartership application, the IET requires around seven or eight volunteers. I'm proud to be one of them.

How did you become a volunteer?
I completed a professional training course to learn the PRI process. After that, I sat in on interviews. Once I was confident enough to be a panel interviewer, I started setting aside my Atkins employee volunteer days and annual leave to carry out panel interviews. Now, I have done over 20.

Has volunteering had a positive influence on your work?
Yes, conducting many hours of interviews has helped me develop my knowledge. I've learnt about areas I wouldn't have had exposure to in my day job, such as 3D printing, materials engineering, overhead lines and academic research. I also use my experience to support Atkins' own graduates who aim to be professionally registered with the IET. 

How has COVID-19 affected your volunteer work?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the IET is continuing to hold professional registration interviews. Since March 2020, volunteers like me have been doing this remotely and have carried out over 1,100 interviews over Zoom or Skype!

It's been inspiring to meet with so many future engineers who have such enthusiasm for what they do and the difference they can make in the world.

Read more about Atkins in the UK and see where you could join us.