Foundation Degree Trainee - Flood & Coastal Risk Management
"There’s nothing more satisfying than visiting a site to see how your plans and ideas have turned out."
I’m David Clegg, and I’m a Foundation Degree (FD) Trainee with the Environment Agency. I’m based in the Flood and Coastal Risk Management department, and the course I’m doing is a 2-year FdSc in River and Coastal Management.
This is a fantastic opportunity for me; not only am I in a better financial situation than most students because of the training fee I get, but also the experience that I gain with the Environment Agency, coupled with my academic achievement, will leave me well placed to get a job once I graduate.
Many of the projects I work on are involved with flood risk management – whether that’s reducing the actual risk of flooding, or making local people better prepared to respond to flooding if it does happen. Maths and engineering skills are really important , and it's crucial to be good at problem-solving. Sometimes it is hard to balance my study with the projects I work on, but my colleagues are always helpful and supportive.
What's brilliant about this role is that it makes me feel able to contribute to society; it’s great when I get to speak to people who have directly benefited from work that I’ve done.
Tell us about your job – where do you work and what do you do?I’m a Foundation Degree (FD) Trainee within the Flood and Coastal Risk Management department of the Environment Agency. The role is centred on a 2-year Foundation Degree (FdSc) in River and Coastal Management. When I’m not at university, I complete 3-month secondments in a range of departments - including Operations Delivery, Asset Systems Management, Flood Incident Management and Development Control. I’m currently in the process of upgrading the flood warning system of a town which is at risk from coastal flooding. Although I work under the supervision of the project manager, responsibility for completing the project lies with me.
What inspired you to do what you do? How did you get into it, did you have a plan?I was originally drawn to the Environment Agency because they've been voted one of the top 100 employers by The Times newspaper. The course they offer allows me to complete my degree without any of the financial worries that a normal student suffers. The experiences I gain along the way, coupled with my academic achievement, will put me in an ideal position to apply for a job when I graduate. The value of this opportunity cannot be underestimated, especially in today’s economic climate. My long-term plan is to apply for, and hopefully complete, the BSc in River and Coastal Engineering – to enable me to become a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers.
Why is your job meaningful? Both to you personally, and in how it benefits the wider world in terms of climate change and other environmental challenges.One of the challenges identified by the review of the summer 2007 floods was a lack of people with necessary skills and experience. Training schemes, such as those offered by the Environment Agency, provide a potential solution to this problem. As well as reducing the likelihood of flooding, trained individuals like myself will help at-risk communities to prepare for and respond appropriately to flood events.
On a personal level, the job allows me to further my academic study whilst remaining in the workplace. I feel that in my own way I'm able to contribute to society. I get a great deal of satisfaction from talking to members of the public who have directly benefited from the work that I’ve done.
Many jobs in this sector are very new, how long has your job existed?The Environment Agency started the FdSc scheme in 2003. I’m a member of the 5th cohort, due to graduate this summer. The course has been deemed such a success that this year’s intake has been extended to Local Authority employees.
What personal qualities do you think have got you where you are today?One of the most important personal characteristics in this job is to see things through to completion. It’s very easy to not finish a project due to the limited amount of time I spend within each department – but leaving it for someone else to finish can often result in delays and a reduction in quality. Completing a project also keeps me motivated; there’s nothing more satisfying than visiting a site to see how your plans and ideas have turned out.
What are the essential skills for your job?I would say that it’s very hard to work within Flood Risk Management without a good grasp of maths and engineering, and I know that a lot of students have really struggled to bring their maths skills up to a high enough level. These skills are only of any use if you're able to utilise them effectively to solve a problem - and this is often less straightforward than it sounds! It regularly involves taking a step back to approach the problem from a different angle. This is something which can require a lot of confidence, but it does come with practice. Teamwork is essential, as it allows you to draw upon the experiences of colleagues - chances are that someone else has faced the same challenge as you in the past and knows exactly how to tackle it.
What qualifications do you have? Are these typical for people in your role?• GCSEs in Art, Double Science, Engineering, English Literature, English Language, German, ICT,
Maths, Religious Studies and Resistant Materials
• AS Biology
• A2 Maths, Physics and Sport Studies
I also have a Certificate in Mortgage Advice and Practise!
What do you think most helped you get where you are now?I have found my ability to apply previous education experiences to completely different situations very useful. It's given me confidence to take on challenges in areas such as geology, hydrology and coastal geomorphology, where I have no previous experience.
Please describe a typical working dayLuckily, I do not have a typical working day. Half my time is spent in the office completing university work and the other half is spent on a variety of Environment Agency projects. These range from updating information on at-risk communities in order to improve our flood warning service, to upgrading our groundwater monitoring sites.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?I really enjoy the variety. The people I work with don’t hesitate in inviting me to meetings and events that they feel will interest me.
In the past, I have found it hard to balance my studies with my work. My colleagues will always try to help, but it can be particularly difficult when I have deadlines looming.
What kind of people do you meet through your work or do you work alone?I work with a diverse range of people, both within the Environment Agency and externally. I liaise with staff from departments such as Environmental Management, Operations Delivery and Hydrometry, to make sure that the work I do does not have any unexpected environmental impact.
I also meet with members of the public, so that we may benefit from their local knowledge and discuss any concerns they have.