Keeping the country moving

To keep people, goods and resources moving around the country requires maintaining our highways and listening to those who drive along them. Charlie Shepherd, a degree apprentice, is our Face of the Future from Strategic Highways business. 


What is your role and what does it entail? 

I’m a degree apprentice in our highways practice, currently working in Highways England’s East of England Design Services Framework. My role entails learning from various types of experience, including; highways design and modelling, development of digital solutions and project management. It also involves a part-time degree in Civil Engineering and a training agreement that is helping me towards IEng membership with the ICE. 


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

Although major infrastructure projects are very attractive, I found Highway Operations and Maintenance projects exciting as they offer a deeper involvement and allow you take true ownership of your designs from start to finish. Working on my first scheme under the Design Services Framework was a big turning point which made me really excited to explore the opportunities available. Since then, I have been working in varied roles on Highways projects and I am keen to carry on!


Why do you think it’s important to learn about Highway Engineering? 

In the modern world, transportation is essential to allow the movement of people, goods and resources around the country. To keep this network meeting the needs of the road users, effective maintenance and improvement works are key. If they are not maintained properly, our roads will quickly become unsafe.

To meet modern demands, it is also essential that we adapt our approaches to the engineering, construction and maintenance of Highways to be more efficient and sustainable. 

Personally, I think learning about Highways Engineering is invaluable and has the opportunity for exciting and significant developments in the future.


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

Alongside the technical, engineering challenges faced; I find the development of new ways of working extremely interesting and rewarding. In every project we work on, we are searching for ways to reduce waste from our work to deliver the project as efficiently as possible. This is a key challenge of engineering to make sure we are ready for future demands.


Do you think people/general public/your peers know enough about the development of transportation in this country?

I’ve got mixed opinions on this: unfortunately, in the past, I think the effect of engineering works on peoples’ travel has led to some negative opinions. We have a lot of work to do to ensure that we minimise negative effects and maximise benefits to customers’ journeys to turn this around, something that is a key consideration for current projects.

However, I do feel that education about the industry is better and more people are seeing the benefits produced by Transportation Engineering. In my opinion, this is leading to growing interest and public knowledge of the industry.


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

Work experience, placements and apprenticeships are the best ways to educate young people about this industry. These hands-on experiences give you a really clear picture of what transportation engineers do and what we are trying to achieve. Involvement in STEM events and school programmes is also fantastic; this can be on a large scale such as the A9 academy, or simply attending local careers fairs.


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

Go for it! Highways and Transportation is an opportunity-rich environment that relies on curious and enthusiastic engineers. I’d really recommend reaching out to find work experience to get a taste of the industry and ask as many questions as you can.

Major infrastructure projects are very exciting and technically complex, but I’d also recommend looking for experience in smaller projects as they can offer a very broad experience, as opposed to working in a more specialist area of a larger project.

It’s also a great idea to talk to people in careers events to understand the different routes into the industry. There are several different ways to get involved so it is important to see which appeals to you the most.


If you were the nation’s leader for the day, what would you implement in order to bolster this industry?

Tricky question! Personally, I think it would be great to see targeted plans and funding in two key areas.

Innovation: This is because our industry needs to rapidly improve its operations to meet the demands of the future. I feel we are doing a great job of this with things like Information Management and Modern Methods of Construction, but it could be accelerated significantly by targeting areas for innovation and funding this.

Training Schemes: Bringing people into the industry from all backgrounds is essential to build a diverse and effective team. It would be great to see more training available to open up opportunities for all and bring new thoughts and ideas to the industry.


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

One stand-out inspiration was my Design and Technology teacher in School. They taught me the value of curiosity and enthusiasm to help you do your job to the best of your ability. They also taught me the value of effective teamwork; helping others when needed and taking on advice from your peers. This made me realise that as a diverse and effective team, you can achieve amazing results, which I was keen to explore in my apprenticeship.