Rob Wallbank - RWA Consulting

RWA Consulting: An Interview with Rob

This month, RWA Consulting sits with its founder, Robert Wallbank, to discuss all things civil engineering, from how he found himself in the industry to how it has changed during his working life.

How long have you been in the civil engineering industry, and what was your inspiration for joining the industry?

When I was 14, I did work experience at an Architect’s office and loved it. I didn’t follow that profession, as it meant 7 years of study after A levels. 7 years at that point was half my life. I researched other options that involved buildings; I discovered Civil Engineering. I worked on construction sites during the summer holidays from 6th form onwards and got a good feel for Civil Engineering as it took in my love of maths and technical drawing, dealing with practical problem-solving.

I have stayed faithful to those ideals and went to university to study and entered the world of work in 1981.

What advice would you give to new starters in the industry?

Do work experience and see what the building industry is like. If all is good, be prepared to work hard and dedicate yourself to learning the subject at all levels, work on-site or in a design office and get practical hands-on experience during the summer. When you graduate, find a good employer to get full training, and small offices can offer a wider range of experience than a big city-based firm.

Can you tell us about a favourite project you have worked on?

Favourite projects! What defines a good project might be a good client or a good professional team that all pull in the same direction, and the project, therefore, goes well. A prestigious project might stand out as being one that you have fond memories of, but to get all these things on a single project would be difficult.

I got a lot of pleasure and pride from the construction of a water tower many years ago, as it challenged everything I had learnt, and it was a success. But solving a small structural matter for an appreciative client can also bring me pleasure; it makes all the hard work worth it when appreciated.

What is the most difficult part about being a civil engineer?

The most difficult part must be getting the degree and becoming Chartered. Once you’ve reached this stage, life as an engineer really begins, and responsibility and promotion mean more pressure. Running a business for 30 years has been a challenge and even difficult at times, but the pleasure as I look back on these times allows me to reflect on decisions made were mostly good ones and the ones that weren’t helped me learn how to do things better next time. I have never stopped learning.

Do you think climate change will impact the civil engineering industry in the future?

Climate Change will undoubtedly have an impact on construction, simply because apart from renewable timber, steel and concrete are the primary construction materials, especially when there’s pressure to design intricate structures, which renewable simply cannot deliver solutions. Therefore, climate change will drive the need to discover new renewable materials that can reduce the dependence on steel and concrete, but that could be a long-time way.

What makes RWA Consulting different from other engineering companies?

RWA has focused on providing specific services mainly for the domestic market, drawing on years of experience finding solutions to the client’s needs. We undertake many defect surveys on a range of buildings which are often because of poor building practices, poor use of materials and even poor design, all of which enable us to deliver solutions that learn from these errors made.

How has the industry changed since you started?

Civil and Structural Engineering has changed since 1981. The level of education required to be able to become Chartered has certainly changed. New products have enabled effective answers to structural problems has been something key to how we can specify good long-lasting solutions.

How has technology progressed during your time in the industry?

Computer-aided design has been a bonus not only to speed up calculations, but it makes errors a thing of the past. AutoCAD drawing packages make drawing not only quicker to create but much easier to revise when changes occur. Notwithstanding this, this is always a place for hand-drawn details, especially when an intricate detail is needed.

The attitude to Health and Safety is another positive advance as the construction industry has always been a dangerous environment. Procedures and accountability help focus designers’ minds to ensure what we design can be built as safely as possible.

Has Brexit and covid impacted how you manage the business?

Covid. It led to us having to very quickly learn how to work remotely and set up the computers to do this. Fortunately, some of us were already able, so it wasn’t a fresh concept. It is healthy for us to work as a team, and that proved to be the most difficult thing to cope with, as being able to share ideas and discuss projects was much more difficult. Daily Zoom meetings allowed us to keep in touch, but the younger engineers didn’t grow during the lockdown, which meant time was lost in their own development.

During this time, we all collectively shared ideas on how to deal with issues, ensuring everyone had their voice heard. As we were able to meet up again, it was important for us to return to the office. The experience has allowed us all to appreciate one another, and discussions are much better now than before. All site visits were halted until guidelines were clearer. Whilst it was difficult, we adapted to using photos sent by clients

Brexit has had very little effect, if at all. We do very little overseas work as we feel that there are enough projects locally in the UK to concentrate on. It means we do not dilute our understanding of various codes of practices adopted by different countries.

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