Work Experience for a Civil Engineer

Created on 12/01/2017

Emma started volunteering with IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group alongside studying Civil Engineering, and started leading her own Canal Camps when she was still 18.  Emma talks about what she has gained from volunteering with WRG and how it has helped her in her chosen career…

Graduate Dil -Emma

It’s the biggest dilemma facing graduates – how do I get a job without experience and how do I get experience without a job? Well for me the answer was simple, volunteering with Waterway Recovery Group. I was able to use a hobby that I already loved to secure professional placements and jobs.

I decided at school that Civil Engineering was the career I wanted because I was good at maths and science and enjoyed using a practical, logical approach to problem solving. Throughout school and college my grades were more than sufficient to get me onto the undergraduate master’s degree I wanted to study at the University of Nottingham. However, I was aware that when it comes to applying for highly coveted placements and jobs with the top engineering companies, good grades aren’t enough, you need more than that to stand out from the crowd.

Volunteering on a Canal Camp

Fortunately for me, during the summer holidays between college and University I started volunteering with Waterway Recovery Group and immediately loved it. I learnt practical hands on skills such as brick-laying, mixing mortar, laying concrete, using a dumpy level and even driving diggers and dumpers. This meant that when I went on to learn about the theory in my lectures I already had a good understanding because I had been taught the tricks of the trade by my new friends in WRG whilst having fun. Suddenly engineering was becoming a passion, not just a degree.

As I went on to apply for jobs my experiences with WRG gave me plenty to talk about during interviews and I was able to demonstrate my enthusiasm for working on sites. I have the WRG leaders to thank for this because they saw my potential and encouraged me to get more involved with leading projects by first being an assistant leader and then leading my own small teams, despite only being 18 when I started. I assumed I was too young but they gave me the confidence to go for it.

Leading Restoration Projects

I began leading simple projects as I was still learning about the technical aspects of construction. However, now I have graduated and work full time as a Civil Engineer I feel able to take on more technically challenging projects and return some of the knowledge I have gained in my career to the volunteering that started it all off.

While I enjoy being able to use my engineering skills such as planning the works, writing Method Statements, calculating quantities of materials, setting up sites safely, knowing how to achieve the right quality of work, planning what plant and equipment will be best to use and working from technical drawings with levels and grades it is the team aspect which I enjoy the most. 

I get a huge sense of pride from bringing together a team of 18 people, many of whom have never been on site before and teaching them new skills, enabling them to make new friends and motivating them to have valuable experiences they never imagined they would. I am passionate about working together as a team on site, especially when it means stepping outside your comfort zone and pulling together to achieve a common goal. It’s the sense of camaraderie which makes the team gel and I am proud of the way I have developed as an engineer along with my WRG experiences to be able to now run my own projects and do all the planning work necessary for other people to have amazing experiences like I have.

More about Canal Camps

You don’t need to be a civil engineer like Emma to go on a Canal Camp. It doesn’t matter whether you are complete beginner or have tried your hand at canal restoration before, you will be guided through every task
WRG’s week-long volunteering holidays, called Canal Camps, offer a unique opportunity to volunteer and learn new skills, whilst exploring amazing parts of Britain’s industrial heritage.  Working together WRG volunteers can achieve great things such as building a canal basin and new section of canal, restoring a flight of locks, removing tonnes of rubbish from a canal or even rebuilding a bridge! Canal Camps offer volunteers a fantastic chance to learn new skills such as bricklaying, machine operation, and restoration techniques as well as putting into practice skills they might already have!

If you are interested in finding out more about the Waterway Recovery Group or would like to get involved please visit or contact us on

Tags: Things to Do, Restoration