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Chartered Engineer (CEng)

Derek Hamilton BEng CEng MIMechE MPWI

Published: 01/09/2022

Education and qualifications:
National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) certified
BEng Mechanical – Electronic Systems Engineering, Glasgow Caledonian University

Job title:
Engineering Expert (Maintenance)

Network Rail

What inspired you to become an engineer or pointed you towards an engineering career?
Initially, living in East Kilbride, I was surrounded by large engineering firms, and a lot of friends who were working in the industry spoke highly of the jobs they were doing and the opportunities available in the field. I started with the intention of studying electronics engineering at university. It was at university that my attention was turned to mechanical engineering and it was in that field that my interest increased. Following graduation I was keen to apply my knowledge in industry and was focused on becoming an engineer. I found opportunities limited but I sought and finally gained a job with Network Rail in the infrastructure engineering arm at entry level, preferring to understand the business from the ground up.

Please describe your role or position within your workplace.
I started work with Network Rail as a labourer and progressed by working in operational and field technical roles in the company. In 2011 I moved to an engineering position, Assistant Track Maintenance Engineer, until 2016 when I was promoted to Track Maintenance Engineer, gaining a further promotion in 2017 to Infrastructure Maintenance Engineer and being promoted in the summer of 2022.

As Engineering Expert (Maintenance) within the Technical Authority function of Network Rail, I report to the Head of Maintenance Principles and Standards. The role exists to lead, influence and shape the development of statute, external regulations and standards to protect the interests of the UK rail industry, and to determine the specific maintenance engineering system requirements necessary to comply with them. I act as an industry leader in the UK and Europe to further develop Network Rail’s interest. A major part of my role is to direct the development of industry technical standards and systems specifications for specific to maintenance engineering, to review and approve deviations from company standards, and manage non-compliance applications relating to specific topics. I can lead as well as be part of working groups in the development of an engineering project’s system engineering design principles, and direct industry policy for performance and reliability of engineering assets and associated monitoring.

The role offers me the opportunity to provide technical direction for the professional development of engineers for a specific engineering discipline, acting as a professional mentor for engineers, supporting their applications for professional registration with the Engineering Council.

Can you describe a typical working day?
My role has quite a wide brief. I support the Head of Maintenance Principles and Standards to direct maintenance policy and to review and develop the standards that govern maintenance. I also support discipline-specific Network Technical Heads in Network Rail’s key sectors through working groups, in order to assist in developing the discipline or asset-specific standards that govern our asset management strategy from a maintenance perspective. All standards must adhere to statute, and the continual review and update of the standards must meet the changing demands required by law, as well as maintaining functional operability of the key Network Rail sectors in civils, off-track, permanent way, signalling and electrification and plant engineering and, more importantly, their safety.

Having completed an initial secondment in my position for a little over a year, I continued some initial work to lead a critical examination of how we maintained the infrastructure and the various maintenance cycles in which we do so. This principally involved using our maturing understanding of risk-based maintenance techniques to analyse failure modes on different asset groups in track, signalling and electrification and plant.

There is a routine periodic drumbeat of meetings, which largely occur throughout the year and my day can vary quite dramatically depending on the needs of the business and the status of projects that I lead or support.

Are there any particular challenges or unusual aspects to your role?
I am heavily involved at a national level with affiliated trade unions. While I have had experience in the past of working with trade union colleagues, this role has transferred me from a local framework, where the interpretation and application of policy are the main focus of conversations, to moving into a more national framework where interpretation remains a factor, but we also work on the development of policies. My experience at a local and national level with affiliated trade union colleagues is very much a positive one. Although there is naturally the odd concern or even disagreement, the vast majority of the work conducted is collaborative in nature, working alongside each other to manage the various situations that are elevated to a national forum for discussion and resolution.

What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
The role I perform now demands that I build and expand my professional networks. Meeting new people and fostering new relationships within the functions that I work and in the wider devolved regional businesses has been the highlight of my first year. Developing these professional relationships and delivering for the regional business units is what I am most looking forward to in the months and years ahead. Becoming an integral part of the wider maintenance operations has given me room to grow professionally. I have also had exposure to larger scale projects with clear deliverables further into the future, rather than the more short, sharp sprints that I have been accustomed to in previous positions.

I have also developed a more diverse system-based approach to engineering, becoming more involved in the individual engineering topics and the relationships between them, from policy setting through to competence management, standards development and technical writing, even to the final delivery of maintenance work. Becoming involved in mechanical, electrical and civil engineering projects has been a wonderful experience and one that continues to give me enjoyment in the role that I currently perform.

Is there a great professional achievement or high-profile accomplishment that you would like to tell us about?
2019 remains my single biggest year for my continuing professional development (CPD). I had been working through my application to become a Chartered Engineer (CEng) and had also decided to work towards my National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) certificates. My CEng application concluded in the autumn of 2019 and I had moved straight into intensive NEBOSH training. Achieving both professional registration and NEBOSH certification by January 2020 was a great feeling and vindicated my decision to attempt both over the course of the year.

In more recent times, I have turned my eye to mentoring engineers in their journey towards professional registration. I have been working with employees in the company’s graduate programme, with the aim of helping them gain experience within the industry and tailoring their experience towards their professional registration goals, whatever they may be.

What contributed to your decision to become professionally registered?
Working in an engineering field and having a degree in an engineering subject, I felt that I had accomplished a lot in my early years. In order to challenge myself further I started on my journey towards becoming a Chartered Engineer, stepping from Engineering Technician (EngTech) to Incorporated Engineer (IEng) with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). I considered that I needed to become professionally registered in order to ‘rubber stamp’ my career to date.

In what ways has registration benefitted your career?
It has certainly been evident that professional registration has increased my choices. Through online forums I get some tentative enquires about my employment status and what the future holds for me, although Network Rail remains a great place to work and I have no interest in leaving at this stage. In the here and now, I have become far more aware of how a professional engineer should conduct themselves, and I would consider that through the various stages of becoming a CEng I have matured both as a person and an employee. The journey through IEng was the biggest step change for me and I found that I began to better understand myself and the reasons for the decisions that I was making at work.

How does your employer benefit from your professional registration?
My mentors from within the company were a great help and that again opened my eyes to some policies and procedures that I was not aware of. I believe I have become a more mature employee, more aware of the impact of my decisions on the wider business and the part that I play in the company as a whole. Having obtained CEng status, I am maintaining my CPD record and looking for opportunities to get involved with other aspects of the business, which I didn’t necessarily before. As a manager of engineers, I am quick to recommend and offer support to my team in seeking professional registration, which will hopefully benefit Network Rail and the wider engineering community further.

Is there any advice you would pass on to someone considering professional registration?
Do it! There is work to do but the process is more straightforward than you would think, and the rewards mean so much more to you as an individual than just letters after your name. The application process alone changed my way of thinking and gave me the confidence to do the right thing in my current role.

The information on my institution’s website and support from existing CEngs helped me to understand the application process. My degree meant I already met some of the educational requirements, requiring only a two stage career learning assessment. I realised that my day-to-day engineering role and the decisions that I was making could be used as part of my application. Additional reading was insightful and made me reflect on the job I was doing and the responsibilities that I had.

It was a challenge translating my real-life experience to fill in my application form and the interview portion seemed daunting initially, however it was conducted in a very friendly manner. I have never wanted an interview to go well as much as my CEng one. Thankfully, I gave a good enough account of myself. Becoming an Infrastructure Maintenance Engineer and registered as a CEng really opened my eyes. It is a great achievement to finally complete the process, although the CPD element will never stop.

Where do you see yourself in your career in five years’ time or what are your future ambitions?
A good professional is always looking at the next move, however I am keen to remain an engineer for the time being. I have been employed in maintenance for over 15 years and consider that I have a great breadth of experience in track engineering, while also taking a whole system-based approach for the last three years of my career. Moving into more major project work is an ambition of mine and fortunately, Network Rail offers that kind of role. If I am still where I am in five years, I’ll not consider it any kind of failure. However, to keep developing, I think you have to look beyond the organisational structure that you currently work in from time to time.

Outside work, is there any activity you enjoy doing in your spare time that relates to engineering? For example, do you participate in mentoring, volunteering or membership of other engineering groups?
I am also a member of the Permanent Way Institution (PWI).

I can turn my hand to some elements of DIY, but in the main I tend to try and keep quite active despite my advancing years.

I have joined a mountaineering club in the north of Scotland, having completed a few Munros where restrictions allowed during the Covid pandemic. I have enjoyed the physical challenge and found it an extremely effective method of switching off from professional life, while still keeping my mind busy. I have participated in courses for navigation and winter survival skills to add to my personal development, but also to facilitate an activity that I have grown to love.

Do you identify as disabled, or as a member of a minority or under-represented group? Would you like to comment on what impact or influence you feel this has had upon your career?
I do not identify as disabled or a minority or under-represented group. While I have worked hard to achieve what I have today, I have come to understand more about diversity and inclusion (D&I) through mentoring others, and realised that I am likely to have unconsciously benefitted in terms of opportunities both in work and my wider social life.