Episode: 13 Cliff Notes on civil engineering
Podcast Show Notes
Katy Toms is an accomplished Civil Engineer and Chair of Institution of Civil Engineers Plymouth, and Senior Vice Chair of ICE South West Regional Committee. This year she moved to WSP as Senior Engineer. Finding her self nominated for all her work for Top 50 Women Engineers 2017.
We sat down to talk STEM, apprenticeships and the passion she has for working with others and having a possible effect on the community with Engineering. As Katy put it "Working in engineering and construction gives you the opportunity to be part of something bigger than yourself."
This episode of Cliff Notes Podcast: Ask a leader, host and founder of Holdingbay Tristan Bailey talks to Katy Toms for the Cliff Notes podcast. Katy is an accomplished Civil Engineer and Chair of ICE Plymouth, and Senior Vice Chair of ICE South West Regional Committee. Now a Senior Engineer at WSP.
This year she will be part of the organising committee to put on events for 200 years of Engineering adversary, and Uk government's the Year of Engineering 2018. ICE Plymouth to celebrate ICE 200 with Nigel Overton, Curator for Plymouth City Museum and Nick Ely, Area Coastal Engineer for the Environment Agency on the 1st May 2018 Evening on the water
As a personal journey Katy goes to Malawi with group of women from across the UK in May 2018 to trade skills with Malawian women entrepreneurs. Help raise money for the Scholarships
Welcome to another episode of the podcast where we ask a leader.
Today we're talking to Katy Toms and finding out what she's been up to in the world of civil engineering.
Could you just give us a little bit of a background of what's brought you to where you are today.
Oh yeah, sure. So I am a civil engineer, I studied it Plymouth University and graduated in 2011 with the civil and coastal engineering degree my then moved into a complete different sector and worked in London for a year in the Power Team and then move back to the southwest because I missed it so much and I've been working on infrastructure and highways projects since for probably about last five or six years now and it's something you've always wanted to get into this is probably about 16 I was inspired by an engineering TV show actually on the Falkirk Wheel up in Scotland and just thought that project was really interesting and just just became really curious about engineering and how I could get involved.
So from from about 16 really I was inspired to be an engineer, I think I remember him sort of TV shows there at that time that there was a lot of stuff into older and rediscovering and and sort of new innovations that people have been doing with the highways and byways and stuff so it sounds cool. Yeah, absolutely. What what projects are you working on now.
Yeah, so I currently work for to be SP, and I'm a senior highways engineer in the Exeter office. I'm currently working on a project up north a bypass on the a 43 North Hampton, which is taking a lot of my time at the moment but it's really interesting really challenging. So it's been quite a good project to be working on and are there any sort of specific considerations or things that have sort of you're new to this project.
It's just been really interesting really challenging so little bit different for me as a project we're working on which is great for my experience, just to try something a bit different then become more of a broad engineer really with varied experience. It's been really challenging looking at the ecology aspects and how we sort of design and construct them around those challenges, how we deal with the badges for example the bats and that's something that I haven't really had a huge issues with on previous projects I've worked on, so it's it's been an experience.
We were talking before and you said some of the the traffic changes is going to be able to sort of reinvigorate the local community and and sort of raising more more traffic away from that sort of central area. Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think every civil engineering put jacked has a positive impact on the local society or environment and the bypass project up in in North Hampton now has an opportunity to move a love an industrial traffic and take a lot of the business off the road so people are living make them quiet proof the air quality if people as well. So actually once projects completed and all the traffic is moved over onto the bypass is going to be such a lovely environment for the people, people living in and working in that area. So that's it's really nice to see those positive impacts on the projects that you're working on.
That's great. And I hear you've been being able to add to that sort of positive impact with some of your work in the community and with some of the organizations, you've been involved with has been looking more sort of year of engineering and anniversaries in civil engineering as well this year so got a lot of involvement and the institution of civil engineers in the southwest region and specifically in Plymouth, we generally do activities for our members throughout the year, but because of is a 200 year anniversary. It's the Year of engineering. We're doing something a bit special. This year, which is doing a lot more engagement with the general public. I think engineers are really good at talking to each other and telling each other how super cool engineering is but we don't always explain it to everyone else. And the best way. So we're doing lots of activities all over the country that we lots of activities going on to talk about engineering and, you know, sort of all this, how everyone's lives really touched by engineers and people just may not even realize it. There's the invisible superheroes and exhibition in London at the moment and it's online and it's just it's so fun and innovative way to sort of explain engineering to someone who may not even consider how engineers impact their lives from, you know, turning on the top in the morning to brush teeth turning off the lights at night and it's just really nice, really fun, exciting to get involved with the show.
That's great. So not just sort of talks or people being available, there's there's some more hands on things going on. Yeah, so be running explore engineering activities. So whether these might be guided tours around the city talking about the history in the engineering impact on them implement we're doing a boat or we're hoping to do a bridge tour for general public. And we're also doing a big schools and families event in June, as well, which will hopefully be really exciting really good opportunities do something a little bit different so it won't just be someone stood there talking at you a lot more interactive and engaging that's really nice to hear, especially seeing I mean that the practice is very much about the environment and getting things out there and getting things moving that people can get hands on with this idea and I'm sure gets in touch with with younger people too. Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, we really there's such a massive shortage as well for engineers.
So we just want to encourage as many young people to think you know about an opportunity that they may never even known existed to them and not just young people, but the parents as well. It's come a long ago. Wow, civil engineers how also my kids would love this, you know, they've got all these skills and actually engineering is a fantastic opportunity for them to have, you know, an exciting career. It's always different. It could take you all over the world and there's just so not not many careers, from my point of view that that this and this is why I love engineering is that you can be hidden. Think about a project. One day, designing an aspect, you see a drone up on a computer and then a few months later, a few years later, physically stand on it. That is just a feeling like nowhere there and so many limited so many limited careers, where you have that opportunity. You know, I can I've around Plymouth, for example, and go How did that or I was part of that project and you can see how you've had this lasting impact on the world. And again, like I said earlier, civil engineers are always making positive impacts. You know that there's always a reason for the projects that we work on and I just it's just I can't really even put it into words how that feeling feels and, you know, it's just you want to show it off to everyone. Tell everyone can be an engineer, because this is just amazing.
So yeah, it's good. We might only be recording this audio only, but I can feel the pride in the smiles each other's names.
Now, I think I can totally feel that and I think that's a good connection with with younger people too and and through throughout life to is being able to look back or or being able to go and visit go past and see other people interacting and touching feeling that the change that's there. Yeah, absolutely. It's just such an opportunity to be part of something that's just so much bigger than just yourself and that's why I love.
That's great. So just before we dig into a little bit more if people are thinking of sort of suggesting to their kids or the kids are getting interested in this. I mean, do you have a way of sort of describing what is civil engineering or what it is to you in those sort of simple terms.
So I think there's this perception with the construction industry that is getting dirty and it's, you know, especially for girls. It's not for them. It's not about being on site and some parents may not think that they want that for their children actually civil engineering is is the professional side to the construction industry that is really as the invisible side as well. So I think when people look at construction, they just physically see what's going on on a construction site in front of them, what we're working on is all of this, you know, front end aspects to it.
And the other thing is what people think that civil engineering is about, you know, you got to be really, really, really smart really good at maths really good at physics and actually civil engineering is creative and I think that's what a lot of people mess it's creative and especially if your kids are, you know, they think about things in a slightly different way or they love solving problems or doing puzzles, or they're really nosy really curious as loads of questions. I think, you know, or why would you do that and why do we do this civil engineering is is a great, great career because it's all about problem solving and you know kids just have that down to a tee and such to get, you know, from my point of view, pulled off in different directions because people just don't know about engineering as an option, but you can but really foster that and have a fantastic come to civil engineering.
I certainly remember back to go to business school and the times when we'd have to make bridges or make different things as as team challenges and there was much fun to work together as teams as as how much glue and sticks and paper. Did you need to to get across.
Absolutely, and things like that when we activities like that we run all the time because they're just such a fantastic way to to show that closely civil engineers are part of a team, you know, we don't sort of work in isolation. So, you know, having really good sort of working as a team, team building skills is is really important as well.
No. That sounds great. And do you have some. I mean, have you had sort of people that have inspired you or things that that may be useful for people to go away and and sort of look up sort of maybe slightly more historical figures, or even even figures in the present day that have inspired you with their works.
That's such a huge, huge question for we take up just I think that, you know, there's those figures in in history that are inspiring. But actually what I found. More recently is that you know you could type into Google and find a million incredible and inspiring engineers that are out there at the moment and with the with social media as it is and the connectivity that we have now it's really easy to engage with those people as well. And I found that even just the last couple years I've been so much more inspired by the people that are around me in the industry at the moment. They're great. And I don't want to give you a list because it's so long and I will forget and I will forget names. I don't want to. But, you know, just being able to follow people on Twitter, find out by the stuff that they're doing is just so quick and easy and just it's brilliant find those role models for for me and my future career as well see sort of the really exciting things that these people are doing.
It's really inspiring and then thinking of the sort of STEM initiatives and getting kids working back in school and and that moving forward into people switching careers or different things and standing been working more more with women and giving back to some of the women who've helped you move forward in your career.
Yeah, absolutely. So I try and engage with different built environment networks we use that word built environment networks for for women as well. So in the southwest, we have the women Southwest women in construction group which is fantastic group of women. We've also got women and property and actually as a company WSP we do an empowering women in the southwest event there. Go on. Actually all over the country. So they're not specifically in the southwest. They are all over the place but and that's bringing you know women who work in their bills environment sectors and all together, we do talk for site visits or presentations and sort of support each other and offering advice or experiences that help us to develop as well. You know, I find that if there's a woman in the industry. Who's you know few years along in her career than I am. She probably gone through some of the difficulties that I may be facing and having that connection to those networks is is really useful to, sort of, you know, get over any hurdles or obstacles and I think there's been so many women and and men as well they've supported me in my career and I only think in my opinion it's it's my job to sort of you know look back at the more junior women that I'm working with as well and seeing how I can support them. So I try and sort of really interact with graduates and students as much as possible. Also as well in w SP. I'm a delegation engineer, so I specifically support people and getting through their professional qualifications as well, which I think is really important source of persons have to help you with that. And so yeah, so I was just trying to evolve everything really.
I mean it seems you've been recognized as as for all your good work in the last year going back over over the last few years for for giving back to the community and working sort of RAM Plymouth and with with the people you're more in and personal contact with. So it sounds like it's certainly doing well and people are appreciating yeah I mean I was sometimes it feels a little bit silly acts. I just think I'm just doing you know what I think I should do what what I just think is the right thing to do it obviously is nice have that recognition, but be from my previous thing I'm just doing what you know what I do. And, you know, enjoy it. So it's really nice.
I believe in mentoring and working back with people, too. And I think that sounds like recognize you as one of the most natural type of mentors, because you're doing it because you feel you want to rather than some sort of requirement or or chore. So certainly, certainly, and I mean do you do you feel that this is the same as you're speaking about areas of sort of legacy in sort of physical builds and the communities. Do you think that this is therefore a part of shaping the future of people's careers and i mean i think i think so and so says he really loved the way actually tie into civil engineering and sort of what it's about.
I think that, you know, anyone can be a leader in some small way and you know I like to think that I do have positive impact on the people that I try to help by sharing my experiences and you know if I can help you know even one person or even just inspire one person in engineering, then you know everything that I do is is is worth it. The end and you know if it turns out to be many, many more than, that's fantastic but was that one person that would be great.
That's great. And if you feel that the the industry is moving and keeping you excited. Are there any particular movements that are going on at the moment that I think I just find civil engineering exciting and interesting all the time. But we, you know, obviously, with the everything that we can do now with technology is just change is a game changer. Really, and it's really exciting to think that you know my job as I do it right now in 20 years time when I'm hopefully still in the industry and it will be completely different. The way that we interact with our clients or they'll be interact with people and the way that we even issue out the projects that we're working on how we can sell our skills to our clients as well with with VR at the moment. That's it wearable exciting at the moment you know we could set and we could create a physical model that you know you can touch and what have you actually with VR. Now you could put on a headset and you could walk through a virtual model you can feel how that building is going to be when you walk down a hallway or go up the stairs or see the view out the window, the virtual models that we create that's just so exciting and just such as it is a game changer is a game changer. And it's it's really exciting to see how that's being implemented the moment in the industry.
How do you find yourself driving your own goals have you do you work out some some sort of feeling for yourself or you just sort of find your way and just keep being excited about. Yeah, so I'm I found that the the best way that I've sort of mapped up my career or you know how I want to progress is asking for opportunities. And I think that's something that women are so quiet.
You know how push to try and doom put yourself out there, but I think looking back at this sort of last six years and the most exciting projects I've worked on all the opportunities I've been given. You know, I've pushed them and I've asked for them. And I've so plan on doing that in the future. But I've sort of come to the end of my sort of last five year plan I suppose I got my professional qualifications and I'm coming up with a new plan at the moment but
you know it's really it's really hard to not be inspired by the people that you're working with. And, you know, civil engineering. The coined phrases. Every day is different and you know it's about problem solving and coming up with different solutions. And I think at the moment I'm winging it with my next five year plan, but I think that's what makes it quite interesting. And you never know what's going to come around the corner in this industry. So it's a it's it's been a fun year this sort of last 12 months so fight finding companies with with good people as as much as good projects. Now, absolutely. I mean, I've worked with some fantastic teams over the years and, you know, is people people you know you can work with people who are really inspiring really they test you and push you to develop as well and you know you could engineers are social people may have people think that they're really introverted and, you know, happy sat on their own, but actually civil engineers.
They work as a team and they have you know in this how we interact and that's how we get innovation to projects and that's lovely yeah good projects good people is it's been, you know, really, really good.
So it's not only the person in the cleanest suit on site.
Absolutely yes, and and for that for the next year what what's what you're looking forward two or you're working on your own events. I'm so looking forward the share of got some really exciting projects
lined up for my day job for my extracurriculars and we've got some really exciting ice events going on some really exciting external ICE events. I'm currently planning a big engineering I want to I want to call it a carnival or festival. I don't know the listeners might think that's an oxymoron, but this really, really exciting engagement event in June, which is actually on international women engineering day we're bringing together all the local schools competitions and fun and learn about a different career opportunities for them was the tying it into the Mayflower 400 celebrations as well which is really nice. So hopefully it will be an event that it's not a one off, it will have a sort of lasting legacy to it as well, which is is the goal. What was the data that are where people can find more information.
So it's on the 23rd of June, it'll be in Plymouth, and we are putting together marketing information at the moment for people to find out more baby will be on social media for definite if you could just there's been great talking to you today. If you got any takeaways to inspire people into this career or just where we can come and speak to find out more about you later. So I'm easily available on social media. I'm happy to chat to anyone about engineering. It is my passion. I could do it all day, all night and I think the best thing about engineering is that you can always be curious always ask questions. It's just such a fantastic, fantastic industry to work in. Now I'd recommend it to anyone. And so, where was it again that you worked. If people want to find out from a more of a business context.
So it for company called the SP who are one of the world's leading engineering professional services consultancy firms, we've got offices all over the UK and pride ourselves on our people collaboration and the innovative projects that we work on. And obviously, as you can tell from me passion that we have for the industry.
That's great. Well, thanks for joining us again today and I wish you great success with the year of engineering and 200 year anniversary and for your larger event this year.
Thanks for joining us.
Thank you very much.
Do you know someone who would make a good guest or have any comments on this episode?
Send me your suggestion, I record a few weeks in advance so can book guests in the diary.
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