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The Year in Industry - Building Bridges to the Future

Gap Year Intern: Elizabeth Palmer

Age: 19

Home: Bearwood in Birmingham

Instead of immediately taking up her offer of a place to read Geography at the University of Cambridge Elizabeth Palmer decided to spend a gap year doing a paid internship through the Year in Industry programme with Network Rail.

During her year with Network Rail Elizabeth was given a key role in the work to replace the expired Churchill Road footbridge in North London. As lead stakeholder manager for the project, she was involved in identifying and communicating with all parties affected by the works. She liaised with the local authority and line side neighbours, playing a key role in arranging the necessary consents for the project to go ahead, such as closure of the highway and coordinating ĎPublic Information Eventsí. In her sensitive and challenging role Elizabeth dealt professionally with local opposition to the new bridge by organising a design options presentation for stakeholders. As a result, the team were able to make late design feedback changes that accommodated local stakeholdersí needs. The communication plan designed by Elizabeth reduced local complaints by 80% from start to end of the project and, despite significant local opposition at the start of the project, the new footbridge was successfully installed and re-opened to the public.

What initially interested you in working in industry?

I wasnít sure about what career path I wanted to take in school, so I took up as many opportunities as possible to see what I liked and what I didnít. I initially became involved in the Engineering Education Scheme, which peaked my interest in the engineering world, albeit that my academic leaning is towards Geography which will be my degree subject. The Engineering Education Scheme experience led me to The Year in Industry.

I was keen to learn more, and the scheme sounded like a great plan for a gap year. I wanted to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the world of work and what career might suit me in the future, and that is certainly what I have gained.

What has been the reaction of your friends to you working in industry?

My friends were a bit confused when I first told them that Iíd be working for a year in project management with Network Rail instead of going straight to university. Though gap years were fairly common place among my friends, they tended to be used for traveling, volunteering or part-time working, not having a full-time job in industry.

The idea of working (having a career) is still quite an alien idea to some of my peers, a future that is coming but is still far away enough not to have to think about. So trying to picture one of their friends in the context of work, in an office, out on site, was obscure for some time.

Iíve been asked since for advice on whether or not they should do something similar at university to which I have said ĎYes, absolutely!í

Has it ever been suggested to you that it is somehow unusual or inappropriate for women to work in industry?

Sometimes people found it unusual, but I never got the impression from those that I was working with that it was inappropriate for women to work in industry.

The rail industry is still very male dominated and that took some getting used to. I come from an all girlsí school, so this was quite a switch. Occasionally I found that what I had to say could be easily dismissed or talked over, but I think that this was more a reaction to my age and initial lack of experience. As the year developed, I found this occurred less. Partially because of gained experience, but also resulting from improved confidence and knowledge in how to navigate professional conversations.

Were there any negatives you experienced which you hadnít expected?

Commuting is hard. There werenít any real negatives about my time at work, because so much of it was a learning experience, it was important to just find out what I enjoyed and what I didnít, which bits you just have to put up with - e.g. some of the admin and swarms of emails and that itís ok not to like everything.

Were there any positives they experienced which you hadnít expected?

I hadnít expected to be exposed to such a breadth of the industry, and getting to own a project was something I hadnít imagined I would be capable of at the start of my year - but I am so thrilled I was given that opportunity. I also hadnít expected to be professionally trained and certified in my time with NR, but was able to enrol on a number of useful training programmes, which led to a project management qualification.

Do you have any particular direction you are choosing to pursue for your career?

Iím interested in getting back into the rail industry, thereís still a lot to learn.

Iíd also like to get back into project management - It can be applied in all sorts of situations and I like the idea of a career that would take me to all sorts of industries.