03:45 28 Nov 2015



Tim Reeve

This isn't my first encounter with the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier project. I originally spent six months with the whole ship assembly team in 2009 on a graduate placement. I've come back to work on the installation of the aircraft lifts.

My official title is Integration Manager, even though I'm still technically on the trainee scheme. I suppose I've kind of been fast-tracked, but part of the reason I joined Babcock was because of this project, so I'm hardly unhappy about that.

There's been a lot to learn and very quickly. The six months of my graduate placement was, to all intents, a crash course in large-scale naval equipment installation. I was given packages of some fairly complex systems to manage, and initially I just immersed myself in understanding the system drawings, talking to people, asking basic questions and trying to take it all in. Fortunately, there were some vastly experienced people on hand who were happy to explain everything. But I also had plenty of opportunity to use my initiative.

This is such a large project that, for much of the time, you're dealing with issues that didn't get flagged at the design phase. In the case of the aircraft lifts, the problems surfaced when we reached the point of actually trying to fit very large hydraulic equipment into a very small area of ship. It's a classic, low-tech, physical and logistical problem. There's no detailed instruction manual, so you have to bring everyone together - the contract managers, project managers and production teams - to thrash out all the ideas and create your own solution.

In making that happen, I found myself acting as an intermediary, listening to what everyone had to say and then putting together the strategy as I saw it. The agreed solution is actually being put in place right now. At least it should be, because it's on my shoulders!

In my view, one of the things I think an engineer has to understand is when to go and seek further advice. In a project like this, there are many people with different priorities involved, and the moment you start cutting steel you're affecting other people's work, as well as the ship's structure. There are lots of factors to be considered, so it's essential that you consult with everyone concerned, and understand the wider impact of your actions before you go ahead. Apart from anything else, it's an extraordinarily effective learning process. You're gaining experience that will be very useful for the future.

Graduates aren't expected just to follow convention. You're quite free to challenge things and voice your own opinion, as long as you can back it up with a strong technical argument. When I joined, I can remember being told by a senior manager: 'The reason why we've got you young guys here is to test the norm.' I thought, "If he's telling me to suggest new ways of doing things, I'll take him at his word."

At the moment I'm doing a Marine Technology Education Consortium (MTEC) course, a collaboration between British universities and industry to provide further learning to postgraduates. This involves eight weeks of learning at home, plus a week's intensive lecturing at university per 10-credit module.

Babcock is fantastic as far as training and development goes. If you can identify a course that you'd really benefit from attending, they're very good at facilitating that. And in my experience, the day-to-day tasks that you're given really make you think about what you're doing, to the point where you're wondering how you're going to solve something even when you're at home doing something totally unrelated. I'm not the only graduate to come onto this project on their first placement, get stuck into the responsibilities and not want to move on at the end of it. It actually happens quite often.

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