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My job explained: Automotive engineer

My job explained: Automotive engineerAfter doing a degree in automotive engineering, John Bickerton has started his first job working on buses. He describes what inspires him and how he copes with the long nights.

When did you decide to become an engineer?

While I was at school I wanted to build racing cars – doesn’t everyone? I studied automotive engineering at the University of Bath as a sandwich course, and took my placements with Lotus Cars and Cosworth. Both jobs were fantastic; my work with Lotus was a consultancy role, so I was working for other companies such as Land Rover and Triumph.

Was there anything or anyone in particular that inspired you?

Lotus was founded by Colin Chapman in the 1950s; he quickly gained a reputation for building cars that didn’t need powerful engines because they were light weight and well engineered. This simple, elegant approach is a good guide for engineers in every field – keep it simple!

What did the training involve?

I took A-levels, spent five years at uni including a sandwich year, and now I’m on a two-year paid training scheme. My degree was very maths-based, and I have to say I don’t need much of what I learned there for my job now, although that depends on the area you move into – for the work I did at Lotus I relied heavily on it. I’ve joined the fast-track programme with First and I’m moving round, seeing all the parts of our business with a focus on the engineering side.

Can you describe a typical working day?

The best thing about my job is that there isn’t a typical day – in the morning I can be inspecting a bus with a technician to find any defects that might affect it in service or dealing with an awkward complaint from a passenger. In the afternoon I can be in the board room with company directors discussing how we can save money or work better.

What's the best thing about your job?

It sounds cheesy, but the people I work with. Some aren’t good in the morning, and some can be sharp after twelve hours in work, but everyone’s got a good sense of humour. When we’ve got a big task and everyone’s working hard – it’s a real buzz.

I’m also excited about the long-term prospects. I expect I’ll move away from working on vehicles and more towards managing the people and processes – that’s where the money is, but also where I can have the greatest impact on what we do.

What do you like least about your job?

At the moment, some of the hours I work are antisocial – the engineers start before the bus drivers to make sure the buses are ready for service each morning, and the first bus goes out at about four in the morning.

Have you had to face any challenges getting to where you are now?

My biggest challenge through uni was money. My parents paid my tuition fees, and my student loan disappeared directly into rent, so I had to earn enough money to eat and drink. Bus driving paid quite well but it still meant some long and late shifts, still, it was all worth it.

What personal qualities do you think are important for your role?

It’s really important to believe “you can”. I work with people who are more able than I am and have years of experience beyond mine, but they need real persuasion before they try anything new or step beyond the limits of what they usually do. When we do manage something special there’s a real sense of achievement for everyone.

What skills do you think you need?

It’s a cliché but I’d say communication. There’s no way I can maintain and repair 150 buses on my own, and it’s important that all the technicians and depots are working in the same way. Otherwise, when we have a problem it’s impossible to find the root cause.

What impact do engineers have on society?

You can literally change the world, in a small way which just makes life easier, or in the biggest, most visible fashion. It all depends where you work.

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