Staff Spotlight: Paul Hayes, North West Manager
What is your role within Geotechnics?
I’m Regional Manager for the North West, working out of our Chester office.
And how long have you been working for Geotechnics?
I graduated from Staffordshire University with a degree in Applied Geology then joined Geotechnics in 2002. In 2005 I went to work for a consultancy for a short period of time after which I decided to become a Contract Engineer. As time went by I realised I needed to further my technical skills by undertaking some MSc modules in Geotechnical Engineering at Birmingham University. I was a Contract Engineer at Geotechnics up until 2013, and then I went for the role I’m in now.
What were your main challenges when you first started as Regional Manager?
I was stepping up from an engineer’s position and into a managerial one. So you have to change the way you approach certain things - you have to manage people and people’s expectations, which is not always an easy job. It was a very different and initially testing step up. I certainly found my way, and my style of management as well.
How would you describe your management style?
I think it’s key as a manager to try and incorporate all the wishes and beliefs of your staff into your thinking. If you include a wider audience, you get a larger pool of ideas and usually a better product at the end of the day. It’s all about making everyone feel like they’re part of it. It’s about leading, not bossing.
How do you think Geotechnics has changed from when you first started?
Certainly it’s changed in size. We’ve become more successful - with bigger clients, bigger projects, more complex projects - as everyone’s grown with experience. In 2003 we moved into a larger building and we’ve grown into it. We are now a team of 25, including Administration, Engineering, Health and Safety, Marketing and Senior Management staff.
The industry has changed too. There’s a lot more awareness of Health and Safety on sites: it’s become ingrained within everyone and has become part of our culture and way of thinking. It’s been a massive change for the better. And it’s from the grassroots: from the people who are out there - at the coal face, doing the work - all the way up to management level. I think we’ve got a lot better at disseminating information quickly from the top to the bottom too.
I’ve always said that we would never put anyone out on site if we wouldn’t do the job ourselves. If there’s any risks and someone’s not happy doing the work on site, then we’ll back them up to the hilt. Nothing we do is worth getting hurt for.
What is your favourite part of your job?
My favourite part of the job is the unknown. We’re investigators, so it’s sometimes like hunting for treasure – and responding quickly to changes that happen on site. We usually have a set programme for works and we know roughly how long it will take to drill a hole. However, if you find something you’re not expecting and it throws up problems, that’s when you have to react. That’s what we look for in our engineers: that can-do attitude, that quick thinking, that response. Clients like it because it saves time and they’re kept informed. So if we can be quick, proactive, and respond very quickly, everyone’s happy.
I personally think that attitude is something that you’re brought up with - it’s instilled in you from a very early age. So when I’m interviewing people, I don’t necessarily look for people with PhDs and MBAs. I’m looking for a can-do attitude. Personality also goes a long way – we’re a team and we need team players that can work with a range of people. I can teach you the technical skills to do the job, but it’s the core skills that you develop as you’re growing up that I’m initially looking for.
Don’t get me wrong – you need that firm foundation in the earth sciences. But it’s not the be all and end all - you have a 40 year career to develop and hone technical skills. We have some people here who’ve gone far with limited initial qualifications, but by showing willingness and a can-do attitude have progressed well.
How do you support people through training?
People sometimes forget that every single day is a school day – I certainly learn something new every day. We provide formal training to aid engineers to do their job better on site – things like SHEQ, SSSTS training and SMSTS training, which enable staff to step up into supervisory roles. We offer training for first aid and for using different pieces of kit. Should people wish to do a Masters to further their knowledge on the technical side, then we can look into doing that too. It’s all there to help mentor staff who want to go on the technical side through to Chartered and ROGEP status.
What have been your favourite projects to work on?
For my first job, I remember being sent to a small place outside Caernarvon. I was sent into the heart of Snowdonia to supervise some works and I couldn’t believe my luck because it’s an area that I love. Another was the Conwy cycle scheme. The coast, castle, mountains, the fresh air… Perfect – absolutely perfect!
I like challenging projects: ones where we’re engaging with multi-disciplines, lots of different people involved. Ones which stick out for me are Barrow, West East Link Main and West Cumbria Supply, and obviously the ones that have involved helicopters and speed boats.
I like the projects that you really have to think about and be very proactive with the client. We’re part of risk management – if you like – for clients’ projects. Early on in a project, they may think “We don’t know what’s happening with the ground. Do we take that risk and continue? Or do we do a ground investigation?” There’s an adage which says you pay for a site investigation whether you have one or not. If you have a site investigation, you pay for it and you’ve got the information. If you don’t have an investigation, then you run the risk of paying for it when things go wrong.
How would you describe the Chester office?
We have a very can-do attitude. We have an open office, so if someone has a problem then others around them will overhear it on the phone, and we can quickly help each other out. Going back to what I said about hiring, the personalities, the attitude, the aptitude, all these core strengths that people have – it’s reflected in everyone here.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the industry?
Don’t be afraid to pick up a phone and ask for some experience. Try and go to different places, get different experiences. Say yes to most things. Don’t be afraid when you can’t do something – someone will teach you along the way. Try and be varied with your experience - then you can decide which elements you like or don’t like. Just say yes to everything. Because you never know what opportunities might come from it.
And embrace our industry. Shout about it!
What do you like to do outside work?
Spending time with the family and friends. I love hill walking, cycling and golf (when I get the chance).
I have also recently enjoyed spending time designing and landscaping our garden – it’s mini-engineering and soil mechanics in action.
What is a surprising fact most people wouldn’t know about you?
I’ve snowboarded down a volcano. My wife and I visited some friends in New Zealand about ten years ago. Being quite a keen snowboarder I wanted to get a few days in, so I went to Mount Ruapehu on North Island and Queenstown on South Island. A wonderful and unique country, especially for geologists.
I’ve snowboarded in Canada and Europe too. I think the last time I went was probably about six years ago now, funnily enough just before we had children. I’m sure we’ll get back to it when the kids are a little older and perhaps I’ll ditch the snowboard for something less cool… like skis!
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