What's it really like to be a ground investigation engineer with HS2?

Massive structures. Immense, invisible forces. Tiny margins for error. Before the building work even starts, the GI team have some big calls to make…

Javier is a Ground Investigation Engineer with HS2. He got a civil engineering degree at university, and his job is working with soil and rock... and people.

Tell us about your job…

I am a Ground Investigation Engineer for the High Speed Two railway – or HS2 for short. It’s a big project, linking London with Birmingham, then carrying on to reach other major cities, including Leeds and Manchester.

"I love working with natural elements like soil and rock. It keeps you on your toes and you don’t know what to expect..."

To design and build the railway’s tunnels and bridges, HS2’s engineers need all kinds of information about the ground they’re building on – or through! My job is to get that information. Ground Investigation (GI) has to do with geotechnics – in other words, how engineering and the ground affect each other. It helps us make the design safe and efficient – it’s an investment in understanding what we’re building on.

As part of our work, we take samples from the ground where we are planning to build the railway – our drills can go 120m down! Then we test the samples in our lab, and the results tell us about the condition of the soil or rock below. At the moment, we’re in the office most of the time, but that will change as the project grows, and I’ll be spending more time on site supervising the work.

What are the best bits about your job?

I love working with natural elements like soil and rock. It keeps you on your toes and you don’t know what to expect, as the environment can be constantly changing.

I also work closely with lots of different teams, who’ve all got this vision to build an amazing railway – experts in utilities (like power and water companies), health and safety, the environment and highways. I end up learning about lots of different technical areas, which makes my job really interesting.

What top three skills or qualities are important?

Communication skills are really important, because we work so much with different teams and companies. This kind of leads into teamwork – we check information with others and work together to check for consistency. And I couldn’t do without my technical knowledge of civil engineering and geotechnics – my understanding of the way structures interact with the ground underneath and around them.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

Nobody gave me advice on career options at school. So I pictured myself doing things like becoming a doctor or playing football for Real Betis, my favourite team in Spain! It was only later that I realised how much I loved science and engineering, and that there could be a career in this.

How did you get into an engineering career?

"I had no job when I came over, so I reckon that was pretty brave – imagine being interviewed in your second language!"

I chose to do a degree in Architecture: a five-year course, including 18 months’ experience in an architect’s office. I stuck it out, which I’m so glad about, but I slowly realised it wasn’t for me. My family were very supportive, and after finishing I moved on to a course in civil engineering. Our geotechnics lecturer was amazing and that really got me going in this direction. I joined the graduate programme at CH2M, and after working on a tunnelling project for the Northern line of the London Underground, I moved to HS2.

What subjects did you love at school?

Physics! I loved getting to understand the mechanisms, the logical paths, concepts like speed and gravity. One thing I missed out on was work experience – maybe I should have worked out sooner what I wanted to do!

Did you overcome any difficulties to get to where you are? Coming over to England to work certainly presented a language barrier. But I studied hard, and taught myself the language. I had no job when I came over, so I reckon that was pretty brave – imagine being interviewed in your second language!

What advice would you give to someone who'd like a career in ground investigation?

The GI industry is booming right now. There are plenty of opportunities, so do your research into the companies doing the work and see if you can get work experience with them. Choose the right degree and the right dissertation – mine was all about geotechnics, so that really helped me find a job.

Tell us something we didn’t know about your career choice. Surprise us!

"I love travelling – I guess that’s how I got this job!"

I recently used my skills as a volunteer on a project in Nicaragua, in Central America. We built a pedestrian suspension bridge over a river to make a better connection for poor communities. It was fantastic to have this hands-on experience and make such a difference to people’s lives.

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.

Back to article list
Back to top