Yesterday I was thinking about all the wonderful summer internship experiences I had while at university. I felt bad about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will have on those currently studying who won’t be able to take up their internships this year. I thought I’d write down my own experiences to share, in the hope that it will be useful for someone planning their future adventures, in 2021 summer and beyond!
My internships, 2001-2005
Summer 2001 – 10 Gresham St. Project, Bovis Lend Lease
In December 2000 I accepted an undergraduate sponsorship from Bovis Lend Lease (now Lend Lease), to do electrical engineering at university. The offer was independent of my choice of university, tied only to the subject. I had looked up undergraduate sponsorship options when I was 17 and thinking about university, as a way of reducing the costs and boosting my employment prospects. Bovis was the first company that I had applied to and I accepted without hesitation. I’d also looked at IBM for their PUE scheme, Microsoft and also some of the military/defence related options, but they had later deadlines and certainly at the time IBM didn’t commit to anything more than a gap year employment. The deal I was offered by Bovis included annual trainee conferences, some industry skills training at the CITB training centre in Bircham Newton and annual postings as summer holiday cover to construction projects in my area. In return I would receive a book allowance during term time and be paid as a junior site supervisor during my summer work. The programme still exists today, so definitely take a look if you are seeking undergraduate sponsorship for a career in construction!
Normally the programme didn’t start until the first summer of university, but I asked if it was possible to start on site directly after my A-levels and the company was very accomodating. I was sent as a junior to help out the building services team on the 10 Gresham Street construction project, which at the time was in the process of excavation. The building was to be a low rise office, designed by a team renowned architects Foster & Partners. My boss was Gary Sturges (Hello if you are reading this!), who was the building services manager for the project and started my education in what it is that makes a modern building light up! The services designs were a long way from installation, so I also got to follow some of the groundworks and steelworks. Being realistic, a fresh faced 18 year old can’t necessarily contribute a whole lot to a multi-million pound construction site, but here are some of the more concrete things I did included:
Learning how to fold a drawing and keep the site drawing sticks updated with the latest revisions. It’s basic grunt work, but having the latest revision of a drawing is fundamentally important.
How to work in an office! For the first time I wasn’t going to school every day, I was taking the tube into London like an adult. There were all kinds of things to navigate, including finding my way to the office on day one, finding my way to site thereafter, buying lunch from a sandwich shop. Using email for work, handling a photocopier and sending and receiving faxes (yes, faxes were still very much a thing back in 2001!) with cover pages.
After a month or so I had done the necessary safety training myself, called a ‘license to practice’ back then, and was authorised to give site inductions to visitors and some of the smaller or specialist groups of workers attending the construction site. I remain impressed by the commitment to safety on all the Bovis Lend Lease sites I visited and worked on, the process of giving these briefings gave me my first understandings of the statutory duties of employers to provide a safe place of work and a safe system of work for their employees. The other thing I learned is that safety works best when it’s a human to human interaction, knowing that before anyone steps out onto the potentially hazardous environment of a construction site, someone else has taken the time to explain the particular dangers of that specific site and to remind them that safety is a partnership between employer and employee.
I also attended my first work meetings, learning essential skills such as staying awake, followed by more advanced meeting skills such as taking and preparing minutes.
Finally, I had time to read the company site safety manuals and safety system. These were a couple of very large A4 ring binders with the distilled procedural knowledge of the company for how to run a construction site. They were a great resource and it was especially useful having the time to read through them – I often wish I still had a copy to refer back to even today.
Summer 2002 – Bank of America fit-out, Bovis Lend Lease
After my first year of university, I went home for the summer and was soon commuting daily to Canary Wharf. At that time Bovis had a specialist fit-out division called Bovis Lend Lease Interiors who had won the contract to fit out trading floors. Initially I was based at their office in Farringdon, then as the project moved closer to the start date we relocated to offices in Harbour Exchange to be closer to the site at 5 Canada Square. The building for the fit-out was still in the final stages of completion by another contractor, so access on site was limited. During the summer I learned a lot about the importance of tracking document issues and revision by external consultants, as a key part of driving design towards something which can actually be built. I was given the ER’s to read (employers requirements), which was my first introduction to reading and understanding formal specification documents. This was the first time I had had the opportunity to work on a really complex electrical services installation, with a small data centre and dealer desks for financial trading part of the installation brief. I also had the pleasure of working for Denis Wilson (Hello Denis!) who was running the fit-out services team, and who would later be my boss again on another highly complex and challenging Bovis project over at the BBC.
Summer 2003 – HM Treasury Phase 2 PFI, Bovis Lend Lease
Following on from a challenging second year at university, I was assigned to a mysterious sounding project called “GOGGS East“. It was the second stage of the refurbishment of the UK Government Treasury office building in Whitehall, on the corner of Parliament Square. Here is a great presentation I randomly found online showing the insides of the building and some of the work, which is Grade II* listed, the highest category for UK buildings with historical and architectural value. The building has a rich history, including hosting significant fortifications installed during the second world war to bomb-proof the basement areas, where the cabinet war rooms are located. One of the highlights of my internship was unlocking the Churchill Room, the majestic office used by Winston Churchill at some points during the war, with it’s balcony at the front of the building overlooking parliament and whitehall used for his speech on VE day. Another fascinating part of the building were the old treasury vaults on the sub-basement level, where some of the UK’s gold reserves were once stored. The gold was long gone and they were to be filled with concrete as part of the renovation.
Summer 2004 – I travelled round the world visiting lots of construction projects, funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
This is another story in and of itself, which merits a blog post to itself – one day I’ll try to write it. I was very fortunate to be awarded an Engineering Leadership Award in 2003, which gave me access to funding, a mentor and fantastic opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills. The program still operates today, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you are interested check out this link for details on eligibility and how to apply.
Summer 2005 – Summer student at CERN
I visited CERN for the first time in the summer of 1999 after persuading my parents to send me on a school trip. I really liked it and applied to return as an intern via the summer student program. Again this is a fantastic opportunity, I would recommend it without reservation to eligible students. You can check out the application procedure and eligibility requirements here. This internship was rather different from the others, with morning lectures on mathematics, physics and the challenges of building particle accelerators, visits to the then under-construction LHC and in between I worked on my project, writing a part of a detector control system for LHCb in VHDL. In addition to the huge intellectual stimulation, the career benefits, I made lifelong friends from across the world – many of whom I’m still in touch with, and some I work with on a daily basis! Back in 2015 we had a little get together to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, here’s what I wrote about it at the time.
These internships were a fantastic learning experience and set me up for my current career as an electrical and electronic engineer. I’m very grateful to all those who helped me to get them and to make them such valuable and rewarding experiences. While this year may be a wash-out due to the pandemic, there are still some fantastic schemes out there for current students and those applying to university this year. If you are a student I highly recommend seeking them out for next year!