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GE Next Generation Awards 2015 winners announced

The winners of the GE Next Generation Awards are a real beacon for the potential a career in geotechnical engineering can provide.

The Next Generation Awards was originally conceived as the geotechnics industry started to come out of recession and face up to the skills shortage challenge. The aim of these awards is not just to celebrate the talent that is coming into the sector and the career development opportunities employers in this industry provide, it is also to offer a platform for everyone in the industry to go out and tell the world about what a career in geotechnics can offer both to the individual and to society.

GE Next Gen Awards

GE editor Claire Smith speaking at the Next Generation Awards 2015

I was delighted to hear how many of our finalists are already using their experience to go into schools and open future generations’ eyes to the potential a career in engineering offers. The enthusiasm with which they are all undertaking this task is truly inspiring.

However, there is still more that we need to do as individuals, companies and collectively as an industry to support the development of those making potentially life-changing career choices.

It is for this reason that I was delighted that Crossrail chairman Terry Morgan agreed to be our keynote speaker. Unfortunately, he was unable to be at the event on the night and recorded a video message, which you can watch below.

This year, Morgan is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his decision to become an apprentice in the engineering industry. His career progression from apprentice to where he is today – leading Crossrail – highlights that gaining an engineering degree at the outset is only one path into a successful career in this sector and that apprenticeships are just a different starting point, not a career-defining decision.

Over the following pages we reveal the winners that were awarded at the exclusive event at The Bloomsbury Hotel in London. The quality of entries this year was very high, so our judges had a real challenge in coming to their decisions. Many thanks to the judges for their sterling effort in reading through a record number of entries, interviewing the shortlisted candidates and, finally, selecting this year’s winners.

GE Next Gen Awards

The 2015 GE Next Generation Awards winners

As well as the accolade of being awarded at the event, each of the category winners will now go forward to compete in the Rising Star category at the 2016 GE Awards.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all shortlisted, commended and winning candidates on their incredible achievements.

Ground Engineering Apprentice of the Year

Sponsored by:

Bachy logo

Winner: Chris Cochrane, Bachy Soletanche

Chris Cochrane

Candidates for this category were expected to demonstrate a clear understanding of how ground engineering fits within the construction market and the effect the sector can have on the overall success or failure of a project. Entrants were also required to show a passion for improving quality and standards, as well as providing evidence of career achievements.

Despite starting his apprenticeship with no industry experience, Chris Cochrane, winner of this year’s Apprentice of the Year Award, has worked tirelessly to develop his knowledge and has become an integral member of the plant department team at Bachy Soletanche. He says: “When I joined Bachy in 2011, I had no experience of my trade or the industry. Having only recently completed my Level 3 apprenticeship in installation of electrotechnical systems in the last few months, I have already become a ‘go to’ member of the team and I am proud that my colleagues will ask for my input in problem solving.”

As part of his apprenticeship, Cochrane has studied the various instrumentation packages used on Bachy’s rigs and he is now using this knowledge to contribute to the development of a training course for the company’s rig operators and maintenance staff. He has been involved with fault diagnosis and repair on plant, rigs and cranes; modifying and building bespoke plant and equipment; and contributing to the configuration of newly purchased plant and equipment.

Cochrane has also initiated environmental and health and safety improvements at the company, including identifying more robust electrical components for safety guarding on drilling rigs.

Andrew Egglesden, Bachy plant manager, says: “Chris has proven to be a reliable, professional and methodical member of the team who will willingly volunteer input into a project. He has not been regarded as an apprentice for some time as his contribution to the work we undertake has been equal to – and, in some cases, surpasses – that of the rest of team.”   

The judges were impressed by Cochrane’s solid understanding of how electrical and instrumentation systems fit into ground engineering and the wider project. The panel described him as “inquisitive and engaged” and commended his desire to broaden his own knowledge and put forward new ideas to benefit the business.

Chris Cochrane, Bachy Soletanche
John Martin, Bachy Soletanche
Lewis Knights, Keller
Lucy Clark, Bachy Soletanche
Mitchell Newington-Evans, Cementation Skanska


Young Geoenvironmental Engineer of the Year

Winner: Grant Plain, Campbell Reith

Grant Plain

The Young Geoenvironmental Engineer of the Year category seeks to reward all-round ability and enthusiasm for geoenvironmental engineering. Candidates were asked to show innovation in dealing with contaminated land or sustainability issues that have made a significant contribution to a project, or technical ability in this area through research. Entrants also had to demonstrate an understanding of how the sector’s work can affect the outcome of redevelopment work on brownfield sites or environmentally sensitive areas.

Winner Grant Plain describes himself as a diligent and passionate engineer who has made a significant financial and time commitment to the sector. Working for a medium-sized engineering consultancy has allowed him to take on responsibilities and gain project experience at an early stage of his career, developing project management skills and the ability to make informed decisions for the benefit of the client and project. “I am a firm believer that the discipline of engineering is an important one that should be promoted and celebrated. I work to produce technically proficient, professional reports providing my clients the best value for money,” he says.

Plain describes the most rewarding aspect of his job as seeing a project grow from inception, evolve and then completion. As well as focusing on his development as part of the team at Campbell Reith, Plain is also a graduate member of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), currently working towards full membership and then working towards chartership. He is also a member of the Society of Brownfield Risk Assessment (SoBRA) and is set to become a fellow of the Geological Society.

James Clay, partner – head of land quality at Campbell Reith, says: “Grant has achieved the level of project exposure and experience he has because of his approach and attitude. He has shown persistence and initiative in his work, manages his projects in a professional but friendly and assertive manner, is enthusiastic to research and learn technical matters, is very accountable and transparent in his approach to project management, and he is someone who prepares well and thinks around the topic.”

The judging panel was very impressed that Plain is a high achiever at such an early stage in his career.  The judges said: “He has a broad understanding of ground remediation and engineering, which serves him well in working on multidisciplinary projects and issues.”

Adam Shelton, Arup
Grant Plain, Campbell Reith
Josh Jones, ESI


Young Ground Investigation Specialist of the Year

Winner: Gemma Sherwood, Atkins

Gemma Sherwood

Entrants for the Young Ground Investigation Specialist category were judged on their understanding of ground engineering and soil mechanics. As well as academic and professional achievement, candidates were also asked to demonstrate a passion for improving ground engineering through quality ground investigation and appropriate insitu and laboratory testing.

This year’s winner, Gemma Sherwood, says her interest in the ground started as a child when her curiosity was piqued by things such as rock netting at the beach and roadwork excavations. This developed into a passion which saw Sherwood study geology for her undergraduate MSci and then geotechnical engineering at MSc level. She says: “Ground investigation has become a real passion; this is fed by the unpredictable nature of site work, posing challenges both large and small. Even a simple, residential ground investigation offers challenges which make it interesting and unique, from artesian groundwater conditions to the recovery of loose gravels.”

Despite being a young engineer, Sherwood has already gained a lot of practical ground investigation experience, including her involvement in the site supervision of the Wylfa detailed onshore ground investigation.

As a proactive member of the team at Atkins, Sherwood says she is keen to share her knowledge and skills with others at the company as well as the wider ground investigation community. She currently sits on the Western Regional Group Committee of the Geological Society as events manager, participating in STEM activities and in organising and promoting talks and field trips.

The judges were very impressed by Sherwood’s practical experience and role as a STEM ambassador. The panel selected her as the winner of this category because of the strong technical aspects of her presentation and her solid understanding of the whole ground investigation process.

Highly commended: Katherine Jawed, Aecom

Katherine Jawed

Despite being made redundant in her first engineering role, Katherine Jawed says her ambition to develop a successful career in the field of geophysics has never wavered. Jawed’s perseverance has seen her become a valued member of the Aecom geophysics team, gaining additional responsibilities and being assigned to site work as lead engineer.

The judges felt Jawed was deserving of a high commendation because of her clear passion and enthusiasm for ground investigation. The judges said: “She has been given responsibility very early in her career which signifies her professional attitude and competence.”

Fiona Connor, ESG
Gemma Sherwood, Atkins
Hannah Breen, Atkins
Katherine Jawed, Aecom
Simon Phelpstead, Geotechnical Engineering


Postgraduate Student of the Year

Winner: Vicky Corcoran, Atkins/Imperial College London

Vicky Corcoran

The Postgraduate Student of the Year category is for candidates currently studying for or who have recently completed a postgraduate degree in an engineering geology or geotechnics-related subject. Entrants were expected to show a clear understanding of the science of soil mechanics and the role it plays in the overall construction process. They were also asked to demonstrate a passion for ground engineering and a desire to advance the industry, as well academic and professional achievements.

This year’s winner, Vicky Corcoran, says her passion for geology first started as a five-year-old growing up in the Devon countryside. “The diverse landscapes and coastal engineering challenges of Devon inspired me to study geology,” she says. “The skill of an engineering geologist is to observe the ground in all its chaotic complexity and find the order which enables it to be engineered. I have achieved the ambition of my five-year-old self and I have gone further because I am also an engineer – I can help develop our world by building sustainable infrastructure in harmony with the ground.”

During her MSc dissertation, Corcoran says her research reinforced her views regarding the criticality of desk studies. “Order can always be found within datasets which, at first glance, appear chaotic,” she says. “Most importantly, there is always a reason for the order, and if this reason is understood then it enables the ground to be predicted. I believe this is the skill of the engineering geologist – the ability to make an accurate prediction.” As winner of the Postgraduate Student of the Year award, Corcoran says she is keen to use the accolade as a platform to inspire others to make comprehensive predictions about the ground to achieve innovative, efficient designs to advance the discipline of engineering geology.

Michael deFreitas, of Imperial College London, describes Corcoran as an “excellent postgraduate student in every way and an example to her class of the professional and academic standard to which they should all aspire”.

The judges said Corcoran showed “excellent insight into engineering geology and its practical applications”. They felt she was a thoroughly deserving winner because of her great passion, confidence and desire to change the future of the industry by bringing order to chaos.

Anastasios Stavrou, Aecom
Mohammed Hussain, University of Exeter
Qiushi Yu, University College London
Tom Clinton, Amey
Vicky Corcoran, Atkins/Imperial College London


Undergraduate Student of the Year

Sponsored by:

Atkins logo

Winner: Jack Taggart, University of Portsmouth/Ramboll

Jack Taggart

The Undergraduate Student of the Year category is for candidates currently studying for or who have recently completed an undergraduate degree in an engineering geology or geotechnics-related subject, or those who have undertaken a project focused on engineering geology or geotechnics as part of a civil engineering degree. Entrants were judged on their understanding of the science of soil mechanics and how it fits into the overall delivery of a civil engineering project. As well as academic achievements, they also had to demonstrate a passion for ground engineering and knowledge of the development of the science of soil mechanics.

Jack Taggart, this year’s winner, didn’t initially choose to study engineering geology, having never come across geotechnics while at school. He says: “I found myself leaving school without a plan, without an idea of what career or path I wanted to pursue. Two months later I was playing rugby in Brisbane. It was in this year living with a civil engineer that I developed my interest in engineering. A keen natural interest into the ‘how’ and ‘why’ things work grew disproportionately with the tiniest exposure and application to the civil engineering industry.”

Taggart initially joined Ramboll in 2013 as one of the first candidates for a new programme of industrial placements in partnership with the University of Portsmouth. Stephen West, geotechnical director at Ramboll, says: “Once Jack arrived in the office he impressed all with his enthusiasm, work ethic, but also maturity. Several times colleagues in other departments assumed he had a number of years’ experience based on his performance on projects and were genuinely surprised to hear he was an undergraduate.”

Since re-joining the company as a graduate engineer in July 2015, Taggart has been applying his knowledge to a major new ports project, challenging senior staff by presenting new ideas and a fresh way of thinking. He is also engaging with the Ramboll graduate community to progress group design projects.

According to the judges, Taggart is a “good example of what an undergraduate can achieve in a short space of time”. The panel was impressed that he had been given responsibility at an early stage in his career and praised his “great understanding of soil mechanics and application of academic knowledge into practical solutions”.

Ben Bennett, Birmingham University/Atkins
Jack Taggart, University of Portsmouth/Ramboll
Susie McAllister, Imperial College London
Tony Bowerman, Atkins/UCL


Young Geotechnical Engineer of the Year (up to 26)

Winner: Gillian Steele, Opus International Consultants

Gillian Steele

Entries for this category were expected to show a clear understanding of the science of soil mechanics and how it fits into the overall delivery of a civil engineering project. The judges were also looking for a passion for ground engineering and knowledge of the development of the science of soil mechanics. As well as academic achievements, candidates were also expected to be progressing towards chartered status.

The judges named Opus’ Gillian Steele as this year’s winner. She describes herself as an “extremely motivated” individual who is passionate about broadening her knowledge. “I enjoy getting ‘hands-on’ to gain a better appreciation of how construction methods can be improved through a more efficient, innovative and practical geotechnical design process,” she says.

“I have developed into a highly valued member of the geotechnical team at Opus in the space of a year. I have been responsible for undertaking the design of shallow foundations, retaining walls and temporary works and interacting with senior engineers for verification.”

Steele is currently the office ambassador for the Women in Leadership initiative, vice chairperson for the ICE graduate and student group in South Wales, and a Construction Skills and STEM ambassador. In addition, during her time at university, she led an outreach group for Engineers Without Borders.

The judges were impressed by Steele’s passion for geotechnical engineering, her broad experience and clear career development path for the future. They also commended her commitment to promoting geotechnical engineering as a career for other young people.

Highly commended: Will Howlett, Arup

Will Howlett

Narrowly missing out on the main prize, Arup’s Will Howlett was awarded a high commendation. Howlett has a wide breadth of practical experience, including his time spent travelling to London during his summer and Christmas breaks from university to work on the Crossrail project. Following graduation, Howlett joined Arup in the Midlands and noticed a lack of ICE lectures and events for young engineers in the region. He decided to establish the British Tunnelling Society Young Members group in the Midlands, providing a platform for industry leaders to give talks to young members.

The judges described Howlett as a “great all-round person with solid experience and knowledge of soil mechanics”. The panel also commented on his “great stakeholder engagement and work to promote careers in the industry”.

Gillian Steele, Opus International Consultants
Hazel Short, Arup
James Powner, Atkins
Jo Jackson, Atkins
Will Howlett, Arup


Young Geotechnical Engineer of the Year (26-30)

Sponsored by:

Next Generation Awards

Winner: Monica Steele, Amey

Monica Steele

This category is for engineers aged between 26 and 30 who have shown innovation, astute business acumen and made a significant contribution to a project or demonstrated technical ability through research. Entrants were expected to have a clear understanding of the science of soil mechanics and how it fits into the delivery of a civil engineering project. Candidates were also asked to outline their passion for ground engineering and knowledge of the development of soil mechanics, as well as relevant academic achievements and progress towards chartered status.

Amey’s Monica Steele wowed the judges with her passion and commitment to her work as a geotechnical engineer. Commenting on her role in geotechnics, she says: “I enjoy immensely the variety of daily tasks I am exposed to, from delivering site investigations to report writing and developing design solutions to communicating with a variety of stakeholders, clients and contractors.”

Steele is part of the Women in STEM project team at Amey, which is developing and implementing strategy to increase the number of females working in STEM roles. She also finds time to volunteer as a STEM ambassador, and is a committee member of the Northern Ireland Geotechnical Group. Currently working towards chartership with the ICE, Steele intends to progress to fellowship status and aspires to reach technical director level in the future.

“Monica is a key member of the geotechnical team in Belfast, enabling the delivery of ground engineering services to both our internal and external clients across the UK,” says Ashley Turner, senior geotechnical engineer, consulting and strategic infrastructure at Amey. “In addition to her day-to-day design and reporting duties, Monica provides geotechnical support to multi-disciplinary engineering teams within the company. She is continually a team player, supporting and developing junior staff, always willing to share her knowledge, skills and abilities.”

The judges said it was good to see someone coming into the industry through a less conventional route and doing well. The judging panel described Steele as “very capable considering she only graduated two years ago”. The judges also praised her “passion both within her workplace and to promote the industry through STEM activities”.

Keri Fitzpatrick, Byrne Looby
Marianne Walsh, Arup
Matina Sougle, Byrne Looby
Monica Steele, Amey
Nick Fearnhead, Atkins


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