National STEM Day, the 8th of November, aims to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It’s a broad umbrella term which covers a whole range of skills and jobs in lots of different industries, including the timber engineering industry.
To celebrate and recognize our team of talented people working in engineering roles within DTE, we spoke to three of our colleagues, Lauren (L) and James (J), who have recently graduated with degrees in Civil Engineering, and Theo (T), one of our engineering apprentices, about how they began their careers and their advice for those who want to get into the industry.
What encouraged you to get into engineering?
L: I have always been interested in problem solving, math’s and creating from a young age – building Lego, playing games like rollercoaster tycoon etc. When I left school, I completed my HNC in CAD at Adam Smith (Fife College) on my dad’s recommendation as this was a course he had completed. He is now a roof truss designer. After this I went onto a HND in architectural technology, but it wasn’t until I did my HND in CAD at Motherwell College that I realized the that the engineering side of things was what I wanted to do. I had also worked part time as an admin assistant at DTE since I was 17, and so had been in an engineering/construction work-based environment from a young age.
J: I’ve always found large scale structures fascinating and I was drawn towards studying technical drawing and craft and design at school. I would regularly read books and watch tv documentaries on Engineering projects from around the world, which I found inspiring.
Since I was child, I have been an avid Formula 1 fan and it wasn’t just Mechanical Engineering and Aerodynamics that intrigued me, I also found the construction of new circuits to be fascinating.
T: I have always been interested in finding out how things work and in school I much preferred subjects like Maths, Engineering and Physics. I left school to study Mechanical Engineering at college, I completed the course and soon after secured my apprenticeship with Donaldsons.
What’s the most interesting thing you have learned so far?
L: I think from doing a civil engineering degree, it would have to be gaining an understanding and appreciating of what the Pamir software is doing behind the scenes. As well as understanding how a roof truss actually behaves from a real-life structural point of view, along with learning how to design fixings required for truss remedials etc. Going forward I think there’s still a vast array of interesting things to be learned.
J: For my dissertation I studied the difference in design results of a Glulam Scissor truss designed using BS 5268 and Eurocode 5. I had to complete multiple designs that required me to read and understand the design standards in depth. Eurocode 5 is formulaic in its design approach, with BS 5268 being more simplistic. The design codes provided differing results, with Eurocode 5 having more favourable design results. Learning the design standards in more detail has helped me with my current job.
T: Learning the process for fault finding on some of our machines has been interesting and I’m also interested in learning to weld.
What does a typical day look like for you at DTE?
L: Between designing and working with customers, along with learning new skills such as truss remedials etc it is a very busy and sometimes challenging, but most days are rewarding when you see a project to the end or help a customer to fix problems on site.
J: I work through any outstanding emails first thing. For any outstanding enquiries, I produce designs based on a customer’s plans, either by importing a DWG file into the design software or using a scale ruler on a printed out copy of the plans. Using the finished joist layouts, a quote can then be generated and sent to the customer. I chase approval from customers for any current outstanding orders. Approvals are required before production can commence. Once approvals have been received the final designs can be imported into our internal system. Each plot of an approved job can now be called off and a cutting list is then sent to our production facility. Fully dimensioned layouts are created and sent to the customer, so they install the joists on site. Cassette jobs require additional layouts for each panel so the customer can manufacture the panels offsite. Amendments are made to designs to accommodate any comments provided by the customer. The amended layouts are then sent back to the customer for approval. I then purchase any ancillary items that are not standard stock. I will also speak to customers on the phone and provide prices for single beams required and arrange deliveries with customers.
T: In any given day I could be doing anything from college work to repairing a piece of equipment critical to the business. Every day I’ve spent at Donaldsons, so far, has been different and enjoyable.
What advice would you give anyone who is wanting to do an engineering degree / get into engineering?
L: I’d say go for it! It is completely worthwhile doing and I have no regrets. Be prepared for some challenging days as working and studying fulltime is always going to be a balancing act, but it is also manageable once you get into the swing of things.
J: I have just finished a graduate apprenticeship in Civil Engineering BEng Hons at Edinburgh Napier university, and I would highly recommend this route to a career in engineering. You can earn a salary while studying at the same time. It also provides you with crucial work experience that you can use towards gaining professional accreditation from the likes of ICE, IStuctE, etc. It is a challenge studying towards a degree in engineering, but you gain a lot of knowledge and confidence throughout the 4 years of study. Signing up for an account with a professional body like ICE is particularly useful, they have significant resources you can access and seminars that you can attend. If you want career in engineering but can’t attend university straight after school don’t be put off, there are other routes you can take, traineeships, HNC’s and HND’s are all viable options.
T: Find out as much as you can about the company you’re applying for, like what they do and what you will do working with them. You will be asked this if you get to the interview stage. If you don’t get to interview, try again. Be resilient and keep trying!
Thanks to Lauren, James, and Theo for sharing their careers so far here at DTE. As you can see from their stories, there are lots of routes into a job in timber engineering. We hope this has helped to encourage anyone thinking about a career in STEM, or timber engineering more specifically, to go for it!