Staff Spotlight: Rob Webster
What is your role at Geotechnics?
I’m the Regional Operations Manager for the Midlands.
How long have you been working here?
A bit over 10 years now. I started on the 13th August 2007 – I don’t know why I remember that date! I started as a Graduate, mostly working on smaller sites or as a Second Engineer. Then I slowly worked my way up, became an Engineer, a Senior Engineer and then I moved into my current role in January 2018.
How did you first get involved with the company?
I was working in the oil sector in the North Sea. I’d been there for the best part of a year and I’d decided it wasn’t really going to be for me long term. While I was glad I did it, I thought, “I can’t be doing this all my life”. I came across Geotechnics and it turned out some of my friends from my university course worked for the Chester office. I applied for the Coventry office, and that’s how I got started.
What did you do at university?
I did a BSc in Geology at Manchester University, but I’m originally from Birmingham.
What was it like for you when you first started your role as a Graduate Engineer?
When I first started I worked in the lab for about three weeks, and I got a good basis in all of the tests we do. Shortly after that I was out on site supervising cable percussion rigs.
What’s a typical day like for you as Regional Operations Manager?
I come in, turn the computer on and open up the work programme. I check with all our project engineers in the first hour or so – not an official check, but I get reports coming in from all the various site works on how they are getting on. I talk to the estimators to see what work we’ve got coming in. If we have something new, I get it programmed in. Then we can liaise with the clients, book the rigs and assign engineers to run the work on the site and in the office.
I generally try to make sure all the projects are ticking along and nothing’s been forgotten about. On top of that, I’ve got a few more administrative roles like maintaining the preferred subcontractor list.
How has Geotechnics changed since you’ve been here?
The biggest change is the constant improvement in health and safety. We’ve also been doing a lot more work on large sites involving other contractors. When I first started, ground investigations mostly took place before the construction phase. Increasingly these days, it’s part of the construction phase and we end up working closely alongside the principal contractors on site.
What is your favourite part of your job?
My favourite part of my job is probably liaising with people and juggling different things. It’s quite satisfying when you can make everything fit into the programme, though you need to keep adapting it whenever a new challenge comes up. It’s good to be busy!
What have been your favourite projects to work on?
Probably my favourite is the Kettering to Corby rail project, where they have redoubled the track bed. I started my involvement with it back in 2013. At the beginning I was doing all the fieldwork, as well as looking after the project as a whole. We’ve been through various phases there and I’ve stayed the main point of contact for all of those works. Throughout, there’s been all sorts of investigations on and off the railway: cable percussion, rotary, trial pitting, dynamic probing, rotary coring, automatic ballast sampling… It’s been a satisfying project with lots and lots of different things to do.
Another one I should mention was a big instrumentation project for Abberton Reservoir near Colchester. That took the best part of three years to do, and I enjoyed working with all the site teams down there. We put in 85 vibrating wire piezometers, a range of inclinometers and all wired up to be remotely monitored. It was a challenging job, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
What advice would you give to someone taking their first steps in the industry?
I think having a geology degree helps. With a geology degree, you pick up the logging aspect of it more easily. That’s one of the most important things to get your head around, because that’s a key part of what we do. Any experience you can gain in the industry would be a good thing as well. And make sure you like being outside! Certainly for the first few years, most of our work is outside and in any weather.
And remember that it’s not just people in the office you can learn from, it’s also our drillers and subcontractors. They’ve got loads of experience and learning from them can give you a more rounded understanding of all the aspects of site investigation. I remember talking to a driller on one of my very first jobs, and I asked him what he wanted me to do as the Engineer. There’s loads of people to learn from - just ask as many questions as you can.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Something that’s become a big part of my life at the moment is Peppa Pig, but that’s mostly because of my 2 year old son Rufus! That seems to be his favourite at the moment.
I like sports, either watching or playing. I used to play a lot of rugby - I’ve just about given it up now due to mounting injuries - but I still run and play squash regularly. I go to watch Wasps when I can, as well as Aston Villa (which can be a bit upsetting these days!).
What is a surprising fact that people might not know about you?
When I was about 6 years old, I gave John Nettles a firm kick on the behind. We went to see a pantomime when I was a child, and John Nettles (the star of Bergerac and Midsomer Murders) was playing the villain. My sisters and I got called up on stage and the chap who was playing the lead had given us all some chocolate bars. John Nettles’ character kept stealing my chocolates, so I got told to go and kick him. Apparently I didn’t hold back!
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