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Emma Dickson at Arcadis discusses an exciting career in rail

Emma Dickson at Arcadis discusses an exciting career in rail

 November 19, 2020

Emma Dickson is a Technical Director with Arcadis, who before joining Arcadis had spent over 25 years working in various construction companies, on road, tunnel, rail and building projects.

She is responsible for leading, growing, and developing a Rail Civil Design Team based in Glasgow. The team designs civil engineering solutions for railway infrastructure projects including bridges, station platforms, retaining structures, drainage, car parking, and embankment solutions to accommodate a multitude of railway infrastructure changes, including new track alignments, and overhead line electrification. No two days are ever the same!

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Emma's role means she is centrally positioned to encourage and nurture cross-collaboration not only within her team but to interact with other colleagues across the United Kingdom and abroad - and across sectors. It means Emma's team can collaboratively learn and develop, as well as support each other and share workload across the business. This makes her team at Arcadis stronger, which can only strengthen the business overall. "I encourage the rail civil team to become involved in ICE (Institution of Civil Engineers) and to participate in networking opportunities, and working groups on innovation, whether around digital or discipline-specific activities," explains Emma.

Innovation and sustainability within construction

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Emma and her team are currently developing design automation software to speed up standard/repetitive design. Drawing from the visualisation expertise around us has improved our civil engineering design development process. 3D modelling enables us to envisage the design, and deconflict design as it develops. For example, we can check that OLE (Overhead line electrification) masts designed by other teams not inadvertently located on top of drainage runs or clashing with other lineside equipment, or that OLE equipment is a safe distance from platform edges, removing risk to public users.” We might be a civil design team, but we support other rail disciplines with our design, and work very closely to ensure all design elements fit together.

The design standards that Emma and her team need to adhere to are pretty stringent, although it is often possible to challenge those standards or use different sustainable materials in design if product approval is possible. "With the recent publication of NRs (Network Rail) Environmental Sustainability Plan, and a much-welcomed step change in supporting climate change goals, we are keen to build momentum behind a much-needed drive towards sustainable solutions. There are many carbon reduction challenges in construction process, so we need to constantly look at how we can e.g. reduce materials, use lighter materials, or recycle to support a sustainable agenda," says Emma. "Recent client carbon reduction plans will naturally see us designing more electrification projects and infrastructure for battery-powered trains, so this helps make significant steps towards net carbon zero."

A very people-focused company 

Arcadis according to Emma, is a very people-focused company and encourages work-life balance and flexible working. "I find the working environment at Arcadis to be very professional. We shine, as although very process driven, we are still very people focused. Arcadis has a very friendly working environment, and the company's continual drive for diversity and inclusion is genuine.

Arcadis has been first class in looking after the team during the pandemic, actively and regularly engaging with the employees to ensure everyone comfortably working from home and managing. Some have struggled and know that Arcadis has continued to work with those people to support them. Wellbeing has been a big focus and Arcadis has not dropped the ball at any stage, continuing to survey employees, feedback and resolve issues on an ongoing, regular basis.

Influencing or improving progress

Emma recommends women consider a career with Arcadis because there are many exciting opportunities. "I believe that by working at Arcadis, you can certainly take part and influence. There are great opportunities for career progression within our company," she advises.

Encouraging and sharing skills development

For Emma, every job she embarks on is different so she must constantly assess her team's capabilities to undertake the work. "My role requires me to balance project delivery with team development. I generally try to balance experienced people with lesser experienced team members to encourage development and skills stretch. While it takes a considerable amount of time to promote new design ideas and innovation, and make a case, I still ensure we make time for this along with team development and growth, so we can always be improving our delivery," says Emma. 

Growing a truly diverse workforce

Emma is a deeply passionate, open, and collaborative professional. Diversity and inclusion are particularly important to her, so she actively takes responsibility for promoting and encouraging progressive work practices. When it comes to recruiting, Emma says she often tends to interview too many candidates because she is keen to ensure she maximises her chances to grow a truly diverse workforce. "I'm also extremely mindful of inclusion, actively encouraging input from all team members, and ensuring everyone feels welcome and a part of Arcadis."

Committed to helping forge the gender agenda

Within her hectic business schedule, Emma still makes time to support women's advancement. Emma is the Chair of ICE Scotland (Institution of Civil Engineers) and whilst climate change is clearly on the agenda, Emma uses her role to promote diversity and inclusion. Emma is also on the Construction Scotland Industry Leadership Group as Skills Chair, where she actively promotes the construction sector as an exciting and rewarding career option, for everyone. Through this, Emma co-chaired the Skills and Workforce element of the Construction Recovery Plan in response to COVID-19, and has used this opportunity to promote D&I at a time when under-represented groups are most vulnerable.

Thriving in the 'new normal'

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When it comes to the new work-from-home normal, there have been both positives and challenges for Emma.

"I enjoyed working from home at first. I used my personal time well, rather than losing it commuting. Outside of work, I have been doing more gardening and challenging my cooking skills. I enjoy long walks and taking breaks throughout my workday to suit - so this has been refreshing. Lately though, I have found remote working somewhat more challenging as I am missing the face-to-face interaction with my team, despite our extensive and successful use of Microsoft Teams. I now feel that I would prefer to split my work time between the office and home, but our offices are not open yet.”

Enjoying downtime

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When Emma is not working, she makes sure to grab some time for her passions like hiking and walking in the great outdoors. Emma also has a passion for history and enjoys exploring historic sites. 

Emma is a volunteer with the National Trust for Scotland and a volunteer/committee member with a local community group 'Friends of Cathcart Cemetery.' "My involvement with a cemetery might sound a bit grim on the face of it," explains Emma "but it’s a lovely wooded green space with some fascinating characters buried there including Celtic Football Club’s first Manager, Stan Laurels mum, and our latest exciting discovery was a well-known suffragette Henria Williams, who took part in significant protests including the 1910 Black Friday protest at the Houses of Parliament!”

Find out more about working for Arcadis

There are many impressive women like Emma working for Arcadis.

Why not research the range of jobs that Arcadis tends to recruit for, and see what experience you can bring to the company?

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