Eleanor Lee

"the people who really enjoy their jobs are those who are given more responsibility earlier on... Tony Gee is really good at that."

What sectors have you worked in since joining as a graduate?

I started in the temporary works team in the Birmingham Office and I think that was a really good introduction to engineering because you sort of use a stripped back approach. In temporary works, everything has such a fast turn around and you don’t have to worry about all of the potential future load cases. So having to day-to-day use first principles it’s really a good way to start, so I think I was lucky with that.

Moving across the power wasn’t a deliberate choice, I was just told my next project would be a wind farm and I was very happy because it’s a sector that I’m really interested in. I was thrown in the deep end with the CAT II check of the design. I was able to get help from other people in the office who were really generous, but it was still quite tough.

I think there was a deliberate strategy for me to do the check and then go on secondment on the site, as a good way to develop my skills. It’s really good that the directors are thinking about who would benefit most from different opportunities.

I really enjoy being able to work outside some of the time and also manage my own time because I’ve got lots of little tasks I can organise however I want to. So having that freedom is great.

I’m very happy to be working in power because I’m very passionate about reducing our carbon footprint so it’s nice to be working on a project where, even if you don’t make a difference to the amount of concrete and steel that’s being used and how it’s done, it’s still a good thing.


What actions from your colleagues have made you feel the most supported at work?

I feel that my director, will always have time if I need to speak to him, either with a technical question or if I had some sort of issue at work. I haven’t needed to do that so far, but it makes a big difference to know that I could.

I also feel very supported by the other graduates in my office. We have lunch together most days, and it’s really nice that if there’s something that I’m struggling with in the morning, then I can ask them about it at lunch and they’ll offer suggestions to help. So having that daily contact with other people who do similar things to me or have done them a couple of years ago, is probably the most practical support.


What training courses have you undertaken at Tony Gee?

I really enjoyed doing the temporary works course when I first started, which was run by one of our industry-recognised specialists. I also think it’s really good that Tony Gee gives everyone who’s involved in rail PTS (personal track safety) training. So even though I don’t have a direct need for that training at the moment, it means there’s the freedom that if a project comes up where I need to do an inspection on the railway, I can. I think the fact that they provide that as a given rather than you having to push for it, is a really good culture. I like that.


Do you have any roles of responsibility outside of project work?

I’ve been very lucky to be a member of the Challenger Board, which is an excellent initiative that Tony Gee has.

It’s been really interesting to have discussions with other people around the business, who do different things to what I do and but spend a lot of time thinking about how the business could be better. It’s great and I’ve been really proud to be involved in those discussions.

It felt really productive, there’s not been a single meeting that we’ve had yet where I’ve gone away from it thinking we just chatted and we didn’t have solid actions. We’ve kept quite strictly to the workflow that we set up at the start, and so I think everything is addressed quite well. The appropriate amount of energy has been put into each different idea that either we’ve had or that have been brought to us.

I think it’s quite brave of the directors who decided to set up the Challenger Board to do that because it is a risk but I think it is a really good thing for the company, and a good thing for me and my career as well.


What was a challenging project you have worked on?

Yellow River is a wind farm being built in the middle of Ireland in County Offaly, it’s 29 wind turbines and the client is SSE renewables, who we’ve done lots of work for before.

It was challenging doing the CAT II check for Yellow River because I was completely new to it. Despite being thrown in at the deep end, it is nice to be given responsibility and I do prefer that, to having your hand held the whole way through.

I was given the responsibility to figure out how to do a check of a wind turbine base by myself and it was quite challenging working out how fatigue analysis works because that’s a completely different approach to ultimate limit state design and it’s quite technical.

I was really excited when I first did understand it after a couple of days of reading and making notes. Getting my head around fatigue was probably the most difficult bit, but also working out how to use the structural analysis software LUSAS. That was challenging but really good because I think I’ve learned a lot quicker than I did through training courses.


What drew you to apply to work at Tony Gee?

I had done a week’s work experience at a large engineering company and although I enjoyed it, I had found that each person I spent a day with all doing little niches of things, as far as I could tell. To me, this wasn’t very exciting so I applied to Tony Gee through the Quest scheme. Of all the companies that I looked at with Quest, they seemed to be the one that was a nice intersection of being small but doing big proper engineering projects.

I met someone who does work with apprenticeship schemes in the industry and had therefore met a few people from Tony Gee. She told me they are a company who do the nitty gritty, difficult designs that other companies might be shy to do, and so I thought that sounded really interesting.

I was also quite impressed at the work on the Dawlish Sea Wall restoration, that is still going on now, but I think at the time I applied it had been only a couple of years ago that the rock underneath the track had eroded away, leaving it just hanging, and Tony Gee had done a first response to that to stabilise things.

I think quite a big theme, when talking to other graduates in Tony Gee and also friends of mine who have gone to other companies, is that the people who really enjoy their jobs are those who are given more responsibility earlier on, and I think Tony Gee is really good at that.

Straight away you will be given some calculations to do rather than sort of easy training courses and lots of induction days; you crack on with doing proper engineering straight away.


What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I think that every civil engineer says it’s great to be involved in creating things that serve the general public. Everything we do, even if it’s platform lengthening it’s got a good purpose. You’re not just making money for a company, you’re helping people go about their lives.

It’s such a cliché, but the first time I saw something that I’d worked on out of a train window I squeaked, I was so excited. So that really does feel great and that’s very rewarding.

My main reason for becoming a civil engineer is to help tackle climate change. I’m very early in my career, so of course I haven’t been able to be part of making high level design decisions yet, but I haven’t been disappointed by the number of opportunities that I’ve had to challenge how something’s been designed or to open up conversations with colleagues like, “could we change the geometry?” or “do we really need to have that steel there?”.

I’m feeling very optimistic but it won’t take too long to get to the point where I can make big decisions that impact the tonnes of CO2 going into the atmosphere, which is what I really want to do. The payoff isn’t there yet, but I’m very optimistic that it will be, and sooner than it would be if I was like a small cog in a really big company.

The main civil engineering part is also very rewarding because I feel like I’m part of a company that does a really good job and I have a lot of respect for all of my colleagues.

Eleanor has worked on

Midland Metro Alliance Luton Direct Air to Rail Transit (DART)