Staff Spotlight: Hannah Dwane
How did you first get involved in site investigation?
Geotechnics was actually my first job out of university. I’ve come full circle and returned to where it all started! We had one module in the last year of university which was about ground investigation, which I really enjoyed. But I didn’t actually know a lot about it until I joined Geotechnics. It was really a case of learning on the job. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I loved it from the start and have never really looked back!
What brought you back to Geotechnics?
I left here after 3½ years with a really good grounding in site investigation, as I’d been taught really well by Matt Yates (Principal Engineer) and Anne Simpson (former Regional Manager, now Head of Advisory Services).
I then went to Australia for 7 years. The mining boom was in full swing and the pull to work abroad was too much to resist! I worked for a ground investigation company initially, and then moved to a drilling company where I worked as their in-house geologist, as well as tenderer, health and safety manager and occasional second “man”. I absolutely loved it over there and I learned a huge amount, as well as having many adventures both drilling out in the bush and in my own time. Australia is a very long way from family though, so I ended up coming back because they were about to disown me if I didn’t!
I moved to ESG (now SOCOTEC) and I’ve been working in London for the last few years. It was a brilliant experience and a great team to work with. There were some really interesting projects, but London took its toll on me and I am a country girl at heart! Anne got in touch with me out of the blue just to check in and see how things were going. She asked if I’d ever be interested in coming back to the West Country. The timing was good because my partner and I were looking to buy a house and move back to the South West. It all felt quite serendipitous!
When I went to Australia, I actually said that if I ever moved back to England I’d live in Devon or Cornwall. It’s taken me a little while to get back here, but I’m back now!
What challenges do you see in your new role as Regional Operations Manager for the South West?
The turnover of younger staff is an industry-wide issue that needs to be addressed. I’d like to encourage people to stay on and be part of the company for the long term. Hopefully me coming back after 11 years shows that Geotechnics is a good company to work for and there are places to go within it. I think graduates often see working for a contractor as a stepping stone towards moving to a design consultancy.
I would like to change this mentality. This industry is not all about design: it takes a big team of people with different skill sets, knowledge and experience to scope, price, set up and run a successful ground investigation. No two sites are ever the same and there are always challenges to plan for and overcome at every step. It can be hugely rewarding and you learn many life skills along the way. You never stop learning!
The Exeter office has grown since I last worked here. I would like to continue its growth, and build on our reputation for quality, cost-effective ground investigation.
What is a typical day like in your role?
It always starts with a fresh coffee, but other than that I’m not sure if I’ve had a typical one yet! My role as the office manager is still evolving. I am one of the main points of contact in relation to programming works and setting up projects. I also keep an eye on the engineers and give them a hand whenever they need help. I check in with them in the field, make sure projects are on track, and liaise with clients for ongoing projects, future works and pre-tender meetings. I also liaise with Geotechnics’ other regional offices to share resources and workload where necessary.
How do you think the site investigation industry has changed over the years you’ve been involved?
The most obvious thing is health and safety. I haven’t been in the industry as long as some, but even in my 14 years it’s changed hugely. There is a much greater focus now on health and safety, and ensuring everyone gets home safe. There is much more training in health and safety now too, which I think is really important and great to see. The standards expected of everybody are much higher than they used to be.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I love the interaction with all the different types of people you come across in the industry – from drillers to landowners to clients and everything in between. When things go wrong it challenges you, and I like having problems to solve. It’s incredibly rewarding when you find a solution and everything falls into place.
What do you think are the key challenges for the ground investigation industry?
Procurement needs to get better. Every contractor and consultancy has their own way of doing things, but it’s not always the right way. You need to pick the right people for the right job. That shouldn’t be done solely on price.
It would be good to see more early contractor engagement from clients at the pre-tender stage. I believe it would make a world of difference, as it would demonstrate which companies have the quality and the experience to carry out the job.
If contractors were engaged earlier on, the quality of the investigation would be a lot higher. This can save clients money on their projects and reduce risk for them down the line.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in site investigation?
You need to be willing to get your hands dirty, muck in and ask lots of questions. A good sense of humour helps, and a genuine interest in geology and engineering is crucial. It’s easy to get bogged down in little things, but you shouldn’t forget the bigger picture of why you’re doing the site investigation in the first place. What information does the client need? Is it for a tunnel? A bridge? Something else?
Problem solving is important as well. No two sites are ever the same, and no two clients are ever the same. You need to adapt to different situations, and use your own initiative.
Also I would love to see more women get into the industry. We are still a minority, which is a real shame!
What have you learned from your own experiences in the ground investigation industry?
Ask a lot of questions. I learned so much from drillers when I was starting out. If you show you’re willing to muck in and lend a hand then you gain instant respect from them and they’ll pass on all their knowledge to you.
It’s also really important to have a sense of humour in this job. You’re working in all weather conditions and there can be a lot of pressures on site. It’s important to work with a smile and have a laugh when you can.
You’ve also got to remember that site investigations evolve. That’s what it’s all about – we’re investigating unknown conditions, so you never know what you might encounter. You’ve got to be prepared to adapt and make changes. You need to think outside the box when the ground conditions and even site conditions are not what you expect.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m very keen on travel and live music, so I like going to concerts and festivals both in the UK and abroad. My boyfriend’s a roadie, so I’ve been able to go to a lot of cool gigs. I’ve been really spoiled – I spent some time travelling with a band in America which was amazing fun. The last gig I went to see was The Killers at the O2 in London and we are off to see the Rolling Stones soon!
I’m an outdoorsy person and I like camping, going for walks and exploring the countryside. That was another great reason for moving back to the South West – there’s so many good places to go. I’ve also just started playing tennis again, which I am loving!
What is a surprising fact that other people might not know about you?
While I was in Australia I got an HGV licence so I could help drive the drilling rigs and support trucks around. My boss didn’t stop there though – he also encouraged me to get a drilling certificate, so technically I’m a rotary driller. But don’t ask me to drill a hole! I worked more as a second man, which I’m much better at!
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