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Senior Tunnel Engineer

Senior Tunnel Engineer

Kate Woolley, AECOM

Earning: $50,000 graduate starting salary, moving up to approx $75,000 when chartered and approximately $100,00 on becoming a principal engineer.
In a nutshell: Designing tunnels and supervising their construction.
Why? “Every engineering project will benefit people.”

Pathway: Wallington High School for Girls (UK), Year 13: Maths, Physics, Spanish, Further Maths
University of Manchester: Master of Engineering, specialising in Civil Engineering; CEng (UK)

Kate Woolley’s career has taken her in some surprising directions in a relatively short amount of time. She didn’t even know what engineering was until she was 17.

Then while she was at school in Britain, she was involved in a programme similar to the Transpower Neighbourhood Engineers Awards, where teams got a project brief and modelled the result. “I loved it,” she says, “and that’s what got me into engineering, and civil engineering in particular.”

She studied civil engineering at university and got summer jobs with engineering firms. Later she worked in Iceland as a supervisor on a tunnel project, which left a big impression on her.

“It was a really big tunnel, six metres in diameter, and it was for a hydro power scheme. It was in the middle of nowhere – no people, no buildings, nothing. It was the most gorgeous landscape ever but totally isolated.”

She returned to the UK and did some work in London’s metro system, where she had to interact with the client through a middle man. “I learnt that communication was the key – to get to know the right people, talk to them and let them know what you are doing.”

Now she’s living in New Zealand and working as a senior tunnel engineer at AECOM, designing tunnels and supervising their construction on site. Her current project is a sewerage network in Auckland.

“It’s going to affect a huge amount of people and influence the growth area targeted for near Hobsonville. It’s all those fundamental things that you don’t want to think about, but without them life doesn’t function so well.”

Kate gets a lot of satisfaction out of designing something of such importance to the city. “All of Auckland’s going to use it, even if they won’t know. It’s nice to know that it’s going to be there, something tangible that’s sitting there in the ground that I’ve designed.”

She’s found that focus and enthusiasm are good things to have in this line of work. “You have to want to get to the end of a problem – you can’t be one of those people who gives up halfway through.”

Posted November 2011

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