Read our latest Budding Brunels interview

Sam's a graduate Energy Engineer - Read his story:

In the monthly Budding Brunels newsletter, we’ve started to interview young professionals working within the Built Environment. In our first feature, we’ve spoken to Sam Benjamin, a graduate Energy Engineer. He’s here to unpick what exactly an Energy Engineer does, and why he’s enjoying his time at major consultancy firm BuroHappold.

Who you are and what’s your job?

I’m Samuel Benjamin and I work for BuroHappold Engineering in the Energy team as a Graduate Energy Engineer. We devise energy strategies, energy planning, and design the energy systems for master plans usually involving more than one building. We help developers to make their master plans meet energy demands using low carbon technologies and renewables.

Who are BuroHappold?

BuroHappold are engineering consultants. They consult on a huge range of different disciplines from structural, energy, bridges, environmental, sustainability, lighting, acoustics, facades, and basically anything that you can think of to do with the design of a building or city.

So what do you do on a day-to-day basis?

As a graduate, I do a lot of calculations- the nitty-gritty work. A lot of this depends on what phase of the project I come in on, so if I come in at the start of a project, I’ll have to look at the energy demands based on an architectural design or the client’s requirements. We use benchmarking, i.e. how much energy do you use per m2. If I come in at an earlier stage, I might be looking at the energy strategy plan and writing a report for the client to prove to the local authority that they’re compliant with regulations. I might be looking at detailed designs for heat network piping, or other technical designs of the energy plan.

Sounds like quite a lot of responsibility?

Yeah!

Do you like that?

Yeah, I do. I think BuroHappold like to give graduates more responsibility. Everyone sits together- the directors and the partners will sit with the grads and the junior and senior engineers, so you’re kind of thrown into it. Everyone’s really supportive and wants to help you. You have to work hard because of that responsibility.

So what does the graduate programme at BuroHappold look like?

I haven’t been able to move around yet, I’ve only been there 6 months, but there is the chance for employees to move departments and get a feel for the different engineering disciplines and what they do. I want to join the sustainability team at some point; their work is related to the design of buildings, rather than the master planning side. Hopefully I’ll get to go and experience how sustainability is actually designed into buildings.

Do you get to go out on site and do practical work?

I’ve been out to meet clients for a district heating project in London, to gather information for the system design. We’re also doing a project with a major university to see what buildings we could put equipment like a biomass boiler into. This means working out which buildings we’d need to connect to the network to run pipes through. Because we’re consultants, we don’t really do a lot of site work, but we work closely with our clients to ensure the specs are met. Things might change and we might have to re-design aspects of the project.

Did you go to university or did you complete another form of higher level training?

Yes I went to Leeds University. I got ABC to get onto the course first time round, but did some retakes to get AAB in the end. I studied energy and environmental engineering, it was a 4 year course with the fourth year being a combined masters. It’s like chemical engineering, but with a focus on environmental and energy systems processes. All the chemical engineers I know have got jobs within that field: in oil, gas, process engineering, or project management.

Did you have any experience in the industry or anything like the industry before you went into it?

I did an internship with an events company that was involved in sustainability. It was linked to my course and what I wanted to do, without the technical engineering side. I didn’t have any engineering experience before I started.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the projects we get- they’re really interesting. The company is really well-renowned in the field and they’re quite specialised, so a lot of projects involve clients who want to reduce their carbon emissions and find out how they can employ renewables. The projects are really varied. I’ve never had two days that are the same.

What’s the hardest bit about the job?

Definitely time management. We’ve always got several projects on the go, with several deadlines looming, so it can be quite difficult to manage your time, especially as a graduate because you don’t know how long things will take to complete. You don’t know where the complications might arise.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

The company offers really good secondments. I’ve got the opportunity to go to India, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, America or Europe, if there is work available. So yeah, hopefully I’ll be on a secondment, seeing what it is like to work in another country. I’d like to be a Senior Engineer, but you need to be a chartered engineer to get into that role.

Did you see yourself working in the built environment when you were sixteen?

Quite simply, no. I knew I wanted to work within sustainability and renewables, but I wasn’t too sure exactly where that would lead. To be honest, until I finished university and got this job, I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work with BuroHappold, but I wasn’t sure where I’d fit in. If I didn’t get into BuroHappold, I wouldn’t have really been sure about the next steps. It’s hard to really know until you start looking.

What advice would you give to your 16 year old self?

Don’t worry too much about what you want to do or where you want to be. You’ll figure it out slowly. You just have to wait for it.

What did you learn at school that is relevant to this role?

Maths. The basic principles of engineering are all built around the maths you learn in school. Engineering isn’t a specific topic that I learnt. I learnt the about the concepts of sustainability and energy, which is relevant for me now. That’s what encouraged me to get into this. Until I went to university, I hadn’t really experienced engineering in any real way. But the stuff we learnt at school was the building blocks for developing that further at university.

Did you ever consider going on a higher level apprenticeship?

Not really, I wasn’t particularly aware of them when making those choices. The university route was the one that was promoted to me by my school. I would have considered it had the opportunity been more publicised.

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