I am Dominique Jones, and despite my mechanical engineering placement, I am studying an Aerospace Engineering integrated masters degree. Surrey has been my second home since 2017, so leaving campus to work in the industry for the first time was a daunting thought, yet a moment that my life in education had been leading up to.
In 2020 that time finally came when I moved to Peterborough, a city I’d only visited once for the assessment centre, moving in with three other students who I’d never met in a house I’d never seen, in the middle of a global pandemic. Needless to say, I was feelings little nervous! However, everything quickly became my new-normal, as I settled into my new day-to-day life from September until present.
My engineering placement at Caterpillar
As I observed the factory workers assembling the engines on my tour of the Caterpillar factory on interview day, I was completely oblivious to the extent my life and many others would change by the start of my placement. Unnecessary travel through the factory is now forbidden, staff work with a minimum of two metres between them, and of course a mask is now an essential part of our PPE. Every so often I think back to walking through the long office of CAT Electronics, buzzing with engineers and cakes. These days, I usually have the office to myself.
Starting my placement from home
After meeting my future colleagues at the assessment centre, I don’t think any of us were prepared for what would follow at the start of our placement. Firstly, none of us were in the same room upon meeting, secondly, my new team were a block of 20 squares on a computer screen. However, as I introduced myself, taking extra care to ensure that the unmute button was indeed clicked, I was met with a series of warm welcomes.
As each square took turns talking and elaborating their job roles, the realisation that these were all people at the other end of the call suddenly dawned on me. They were not just jittery voices and pixels, these were engineers. My nerves very quickly subsided, and my newbie-questions soon turned into banter as I became a part of the team, despite having not met most of them in person.
Moving to working on site
It was only a week later I was clonking around the site in pink steel-cap boots with matching backpack, jumpers, and stationery. I am very happy to be living my pinkest life in a world of CAT-yellow and Perkins blue, however it does mean that people can see me coming from the other side of the factory (which is not necessarily a bad thing with regards to safety in visibility).
The downside to being introduced to your colleagues via Teams comes when meeting them for the first time in person. One of my first major lessons learnt was that people’s voices sound very different on teams. Every so often someone will approach me with a ‘Hi Dominique!’, and I have absolutely no clue who they are. I don’t even have the heart to admit it. Instead I choose to glance at their name badge in hope that it’s facing the right direction, so I can rapidly reply ‘Hi Tom how are the kids!’
Although joking aside, I think my favourite aspect of this placement is being able to perform physical work on site as part of my job role. Not only does it heavily build upon my practical experience of engineering, but it also allows me to escape the walls of my bedroom which seem to be closing in evermore by the day. I am more than happy to do the awkward re-introductions with my colleagues if it means getting to know them in person and having a chat, whilst observing the social distancing rules of course.
As each week passes, I can feel myself growing as a person and truly developing as a young professional engineer. I look forward to reflecting on this growth each month as I write these blog posts and share my experience as a placement engineer for the global leader in machines, Caterpillar.