Project case study - Abertay University placements

Making the jump from the world of academia to the workplace can be a daunting experience. For newly qualified staff, taking learnings from textbook theory into the real world is a fundamental part of the education process.

Year 3 BEng Civil Engineering Students studying at Abertay University had the opportunity to select a twelve week industrial placement as part of their studies. The placements, which occurred in the first part of the second term, involved taking part in a structured placement with an employer to undertake a variety of duties, including producing a technical report and presentation at the end of the placement.

The A9 Dualling: Luncarty to Pass of Birnam project team developed a strong relationship with the academic staff at Abertay University which led to a series of opportunities and positive outcomes for students.

Market Street Event

Students gathered at a stall at the Market Street event
Market street event, hosted at Abertay Union

The university operated a “Market Street” event to allow employers and students to meet and discuss the placement opportunities on offer so that both student and employer could make informed decisions to ensure each individual got the best from the experience.

The event included an expert Q&A panel, during which experienced engineers spoke about their route into the engineering sector, highlighting the variety of engineering careers available within the industry.

Duncan Gardner, Community Liaison Officer for the A9 Dualling: Luncarty to Pass of Birnam project attended the market street event and discussed placement opportunities with the third year students.

Following a series of interviews, the project’s contractor, Balfour Beatty, invited one student, James Lockwood, to undertake a placement at the  on-site laboratory which commenced in January 2019.

James Lockwood

James’ role on the project involved taking samples of concrete, aggregates and asphalt and testing them to ensure they complied with the relevant specifications.

James conducting an LDW test on site
James conducting an LDW test on site

Speaking about his placement, James said:

Materials testing wasn’t covered in a great detail as part of the academic courses, so I had a lot of things to learn. My goal was to gain as much knoweldge and experience as I could during my placement about materials and material testing. That included knowledge in lab tests, in-situ tests and analysis.

“As part of my coursework, I presented what I had learned in a technical report and delivered a presentation for my peers.”

James completed his placement successfully and delivered his presentation. He also went on to take a part-time role in the laboratory to fit around his studies and supported the laboratory full-time over the summer months.

Based on his experiences, James is also looking at completing his end of year project on materials testing.

We asked James where he saw himself in five years:

I see myself working with Balfour Beatty. The opportunity for students within the company is outstanding. I work with another lab technician who followed a similar path and, in a few weeks, he will be interviewing for a site engineer position. I hope that I'll be able to obtain a similar opportunity to advance my career with Balfour Beatty.”

Mujahid Ali

Mujahid next to a computer monitor showing the PowerPoint presentation he has been preparing
Mujahid preparing a presentation about his placement

In 2020, the A9 Dualling: Luncarty to Pass of Birnam project provided a placement opportunity for third year student, Mujahid Ali.

Mujahid worked with the site engineers, setting out and learning about structures and drainage. This was followed by a period in the site laboratory taking samples of concrete, aggregates and asphalt and testing them to ensure compliance with the relevant specifications.

Mujahid said: “I have learned so much in the few weeks I have been here including: setting out activities for earthworks, drainage and structures, including bearing installation and form-work for concrete pours.

This is a unique experience that you don’t always get at university. I have also spent time working in the site laboratory, weighing samples, carrying out gradings and recording the information. It’s a great experience and there is so much to learn.”

Mujahid completed his placement which included receiving an Industrial Cadets Gold Award by recording his placement in a daily diary and delivering a presentation to the project team. He went on to take a part-time role in the laboratory to fit around his studies and supported the laboratory full-time during the summer.

Mujahid was delighted with his placement and sees himself staying with Balfour Beatty as he moves through his career. When reflecting on his placement, Mujahid said:

I’m sure a lot of the other students wish they had this opportunity to experience the construction site first hand. “

William Rodriguez

At the end of 2020, we connected with Abertay University once more to offer an industrial placement to William Rodriguez, a third-year civil engineering student who commenced his onsite placement in early 2021.

William initially shadowed the construction team in the south section of the project before moving on to work with the materials testing team.

William was also then given the opportunity to work in a paid, part-time role as a material testing technician, supporting the vital work of our onsite laboratory.

William, wearing PPE and a face mask, grading material using accurate weighing equipment in a laboratory
William grading material at the onsite laboratory

William said:

I really enjoyed learning how to set out the invert level boards for the pipes and catchpits of the drainage systems and learning how to use the GPS on site.

“In the laboratory, I developed my understanding of different types of materials used on the project, how they behave and when they are used.

“I have enjoyed my experience on site at the A9 Dualling: Luncarty to Pass of Birnam project. It has enhanced my skills and reinforced my confidence for when I join the industry in future as a professional Civil Engineer.”