How to become a route engineer with HS2

HS2 senior route engineer Andrew Wood says it's really important to consider people and the environment in his job. Find out more!

Andrew left school with three A-levels in maths, physics and French. He went to uni, became a chartered Civil Engineer and now works as a Senior Route Engineer with HS2. Plotr caught up with him to find out more about his job!

Tell us about your job...

I work for High Speed Two Ltd as a Senior Route Engineer. Specifically, I coordinate the design of a new railway between Birmingham and Leeds and onwards. So it’s my job to propose where the line, stations and depots should be, and explain why I think that’s the best choice.

In my role, you have to remember what the new railway is supposed to do, which is to link major cities in the UK. But you also have to consider the effect on people and the environment, and make sure that HS2 is value for money.

I weigh up all of these factors and then advise the Government: in the end, it’s up to them to decide where the new railway will go based on my advice.

What are the best bits about your job?

The best bit is helping to make big decisions that will have a lasting impact for the future – just to play a role in that is a great opportunity.

"There’s an old expression: ‘You should do something every day that scares you.’ That’s how you develop your skills - it’s not scary the second time around."

I also enjoy the mix of technical and non-technical work. For example, I can spend one day focused on the technical engineering side of route design. The next day, I’ll be talking about the challenges and benefits of particular routes with local councils, the public, or organisations like the National Trust.

What 3 top skills or qualities are important?

"Sometimes you just have to make decisions and trust your own judgement."

  1. It's really important to communicate a technical message in a way that audiences can relate to. You need to explain the pluses and minuses for different routes, so the Government knows the facts and can choose. And you have to know how to communicate with the wider public.
  2. You need a logical mind: before you make a decision, you need to work out the effect it will have. In major projects like HS2, decisions can have a knock-on impact on lots of other technical areas. It’s just the nature of railways – everything is integrated.
  3. It helps to understand how structures work, and what’s going on under the earth’s surface. As an engineer you learn to understand the forces at work: how buildings affect the geology below them, and the other way round.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I wanted to be an animal photographer… until I realised how much time you spend waiting around for animals to show up. I wouldn’t have the patience to do that!

I’m glad I chose engineering – it’s a lot more varied! I especially enjoy working on site, where there is always lots going on.

How did you get into engineering?

I knew I wanted to do something that made a lasting impression, but I wasn’t exactly sure what that was. I chose an engineering degree because it seemed to lead to building something real and tangible. A friend’s dad was an engineer and was able to say: ‘I built that bridge’. I thought: ‘That’s something I want to say when I’m older!’

What subjects did you love at school?

I liked P.E., especially racquet sports – badminton, tennis and squash. That was just because I liked being active. I also liked design and being creative, although I have always known that my mind works best when problem solving, as I am quite mathematical. My favourite subject at school was physics.

What relevant training or courses did you do?

A lot of the experience you need to become a Chartered Engineer is done on the job. You need experience of various technical, commercial and leadership activities. When I first started as a graduate engineer, I was fortunate to work in a large company: they sent me on courses in things like contract management and presentation skills. It’s useful to have a mix of relevant studying as well as doing the job for real.

Did you overcome any personal challenges to get to where you are?

I’m naturally quite a quiet person. When I first started as a Route Engineer, I would have strong opinions, but I just used to keep them to myself.

Sometimes, you find yourself in challenging situations where you just have to make decisions and trust your own judgement. You find that if you don’t make those decisions, then they can come around and give you twice as much trouble later. Experience helps to build your confidence, so that you can have faith in your abilities and share your knowledge with others.

There’s an old expression: ‘You should do something every day that scares you.’ That’s how you develop your skills and abilities, because you find it’s not scary the second time around.

Any advice for someone who wants to do your job?

Try and get some work experience, even if it’s just visiting somewhere for a day. There’s a lot of different types of engineering jobs; some of them you won’t even know exist until you see them for yourself.

Also, don’t be shy to ask about getting opportunities. If you show willing and interest, there will be people who want to help you.

Any job hunting tips to share?

  • Ask someone to read your CV – it’s really good to get a second opinion.
  • When replying to job adverts, make sure you update your CV so it responds to that specific advert. If the job asks for management skills, you can use those exact words to make it really obvious for the person reading it, e.g. "I showed management skills when I was head of the school football team and was involved in organising the end-of-year sporting awards ceremony."

Tell us something we didn't know about engineering. Surprise us!

People think engineering is just one type of career, but there’s a lot of different sorts of engineers. Some in the office, some on site, some managing complex programmes and projects. It’s not all muddy boots – but you can wear muddy boots if you want to!

Are you interested in creating real change? Using technology to put the passenger in control? More than just a railway, HS2 is about unlocking potential, and making better connections between people and places. It’s about finding new skills, growing new industries, and starting thousands of people on a rewarding career. This takes ideas, and it takes creativity. If you want to help build the country’s biggest mega project, and get Britain moving in all the right directions, HS2 could have the career for you.

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