Council engineer dons many (hard) hats
Working as an engineer in local government is a hands-on jigsaw puzzle, where variety and collaboration are key components.
Maintaining and developing infrastructure in a location as geographically diverse as the north-east makes for a colourful picture too, as Aberdeenshire Council engineer Joanne Banks is finding out.
“I first decided I wanted to be an engineer on a trip to Norway, where we arrived by ferry along the coast. I was fascinated by the bridges and use of land around the fjords,” says Jo, who secured her first professional engineering job at the council last year.
The 25-year-old studied Structural and Architectural Engineering at the University of Strathclyde. She volunteered as a cook for a homeless charity in Glasgow, and spent summer holidays carrying out inspections of old railway structures for Sustrans, the national cycle network charity.
When a post came up for structures engineer with the council, Jo secured the job and found herself inspecting bridges in some of Aberdeenshire’s most far-flung corners, from Donside to the Buchan coast.
The council looks after more than 1,400 bridges, and has the highest number of listed bridges in Scotland, which all require a tailored service of care to ensure their survival.
The River Dee alone has 11 road bridges and three footbridges spanning its banks, from Maryculter to Linn O’Dee.
The Old Bridge of Dee on the Invercauld Estate near Braemar, which is an old military bridge built in 1752, has become one of Jo’s favourites, not least because the Cairngorms act as a spectacularly scenic backdrop.
Jo moved to the council’s construction team six months ago, and as well as bridges she now works on harbours, quarries and flood prevention.
“Each job is challenging in its own way,” she says. “But the most challenging thing about being a council engineer is the number of roles you’re required to take on – I’ve been client, designer and contractor at various points.”
Jo’s advice to anyone considering going into the industry is to remember the job requires a collaborative approach.
She has found herself working alongside Moray Council and a private 3D laser survey firm, as well as the Cairngorms National Park where several council-owned bridges reside.
Jo says that she’s keen on creative problem solving. Are there any construction “quirks” or problems in Scotland that she’d like to help solve?
“Waterproofing structures always seems to be an issue in Scotland. No matter the type of bridge, there is always some part of it vulnerable to water. There are so many ways to approach this problem.”
For now though, Jo is enjoying turning her hand to the incredibly varied range of construction jobs within the local authority.
“It’s difficult to predict where this might take me,” she says. “But I’m quite happy with that.”