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A reflection of my 25+ years in engineering…

Engineering By Paul Hards, Partner, Structural Engineering – 25 November 2021

Silhouettes in blue and black of mountains reflected in a still lake


Paul Hards in front of glass bamboo effect panelling

Paul Hards

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I began my engineering journey immediately after finishing my A-Levels. I had an initial interest in engineering drawing as an 18-year-old straight out of school. My employment began at Greener Whitehouse and Associates, which at the time was a firm of five people. Then I joined Cundall as a graduate after completing university. The following blog is a walk-through of my journey in engineering, detailing how the industry has changed, some of the milestones I have tackled and the influences I have had.

How the industry has changed:

The engineering world as we know it today is monumentally different from when I first started my career in engineering in 1986. While the general principles of the work we do has not changed, our approach to it has shifted significantly. Processes have got relatively easier as a result of the blessing that is digital engineering! I remember during my first job straight after school, there were no computers or fax machines – instead, we had only drawing boards! To send a drawing to someone, would take an hour – I remember going down to the basement where we had to use ammonia machines to print copies of drawings. This is what a design office looked like in the 1980s!

Back then, when we were faced with a challenge, our approach would be to break the project down using pen and paper – while this was an extremely time-consuming process, it always helped answered the important question of how things are done. At the expense of sounding ‘old school,’ this is something that I encourage younger engineers at Cundall to think about – ‘how things fit together’

Sustainability on the radar:

This might not come as a massive surprise… sustainability was not specifically considered in the design process 25 years ago! In the projects I have been involved in the past few years, sustainability has always been a core component in the design process. In hindsight, what I find ironic is that we would often re-use buildings to be cost-efficient. This just so happened to be sustainable – even though we did not consider it to be so at the time!

Projects I learnt the most from:

One of the first massive projects I worked on was the Sage headquarters in Great Park Newcastle. I was a ‘young’ engineer when I was involved in this project which at the time was the biggest in the North East of England. Testing my collaborative abilities, it was a multi-disciplinary project with loads of people involved. We even had some design team meetings with twice as many people as we would now. The very first thing we did was install a newt fence to protect the site (another example of being sustainable without knowing!). 20 years after construction, Sage moved to a new HQ at Cobalt Business Park – another significant project we have worked on in the North East for many years.

What inspired me to be the leader I am:

A lot of factors through the course of my engineering journey have influenced me to become the leader I am today – one of the biggest being my own managers. I have been fortunate enough to have been mentored by some very inspiring engineers and have attempted to pick the best traits amongst each of them to implement in my own management style. Across the partnership now, there are no two leaders who are the same – we work to each other strengths which contribute to our success as a firm. Similarly, two of my first managers were very different individuals with different priorities – one focused on winning work while the other on delivering projects. Both of these elements are crucial to commercial success. Bearing this in mind has contributed to my success.

Advice I would give to younger engineers:

Ask questions, listen and learn! I would also suggest being open to the industry’s positive changes. With the fallout from COP26, it has made it clear that change will be spearheaded and delivered by us. It is then up to you, as young engineers, to be the catalyst of this transformation.