What's it really like to be an area engineer with HS2?

HS2 area engineer Joanne Chau loves the variety in her job. She gets to prepare for Parliament sessions, explore technical designs and meet with everyone from business owners to local residents! Find out more...

Joanne Chau's science A-levels and civil engineering degree have helped her get an HS2 job that's full of variety. Find out why no two days as an HS2 area engineer are ever the same!

Tell us about your job…

I am a Senior Area Engineer, working as part of the HS2 Phase One team. Our job is to design and build a new high speed railway network, connecting London to Birmingham. And that’s just the start: our railway will carry on to reach other major cities, including Leeds and Manchester.

"I was not born in the UK, so English is not my first language. But I’ve worked on different projects, and it is common to see engineers from different parts of the world working together."

Here are some things I do in a typical day:

  • I meet local residents, landowners and business owners to listen to their views. It’s important to understand how the railway could affect them, and to explain to them the design of the project.
  • I review the technical designs that our consultants create for us. This could be the design of a bridge or a railway station, for example.
  • I work alongside lawyers to prepare for the Select Committee sessions in Parliament. The committee is a group of MPs who are reviewing our plans. We need Parliament’s permission to build the railway, and we need to gather a huge amount of information in order to get that.

My typical working hours are Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:30pm, with a lunch break.

What are the best bits about your job?

I think the fact that it’s such a high-profile project. I am proud to be part of the team that’s working hard to deliver a challenging and much talked-about project, something that’s of national importance. I am very lucky because it’s not even my first one. I previously worked on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – you might have heard about that!

I also love working with people from so many backgrounds, in so many different areas: architects, property experts, barristers, environmental specialists – you name it!

What are the top three skills or qualities in area engineering?

If I had to pick three things, the first would be communication skills. We have to explain the details of the engineering design, to make it really clear to communities and other teams we work with, to make sure things go smoothly.

The second would be teamwork – you can’t deliver a project of this size without great interpersonal skills, to work with all those people I talked about.

Lastly, you need to be flexible. Sometimes, evening and weekends are the best time to meet local communities and attend events. And once we really start building the railway, engineers will be working with contractors at remote construction sites.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I wanted to be a teacher when I was little – as a kid, teachers were the people I spent most of my time with, apart from my family. My friends in schools wanted to be typical things: policeman, fireman, astronaut, pilot, lawyer, doctor. I don’t think it’s changed much! It’s good for a young person to understand the wider range of jobs out there.

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

I was not born in the UK, so English is not my first language. But I’ve worked on different projects, and it is common to see engineers from different parts of the world working together. You see engineers from Spain, Poland, Italy, Malaysia, Australia, all working on the same project. This makes me feel at ease, and that I am not the odd one out. And it just shows the exciting global opportunities that engineers have, to work in different parts of the world.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get into area engineering?

Don’t be scared to step out of your comfort zone – to take on a role that you will be stepping up to, or a role that you think you might not be qualified for. Try it out first, and experience it yourself. Also, it’s a great idea to get engineering-related work experience as early in your career as possible.

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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