Joining the IHE is easy using our new online application processJoin us now
Member of the Month
Ross Bullerwell MA FSC FIHE
- Friday February 19, 2021
What inspired you to become an engineer or pointed you towards an engineering career?
I grew up on a farm and always knew I wanted to work in an outdoor industry. After short stints filling potholes and working in highways gangs as an apprentice, I went on to study further, to be more constructionfocused, and worked my way up through management positions.
What made you join the IHE?
I joined when my former colleague, Richard Hayes, became CEO and did excellent work raising the profile of the organisation.
Has membership benefited your career and did this have any benefit for your employer?
Membership has supported me in understanding the developing needs and requirements of engineers across the country. The ability to reach out to other members ensures there’s always someone who can support you in a technical way if you’re struggling with a highways challenge. Probably a cliché, but the IHE is a bit of a family. As a contractor it helped my career development and knowledge, as a supplier it provided invaluable ways to evaluate products and technologies to bring to market and as a client it has supported the sharing of best practice.
Is there any advice you would like members to take into consideration?
Not to be frightened to innovate within defined tolerances. We can’t do what we’ve always done and expect improvement. I’d also say to balance that innovation within compliance to standards
but to drive those standards forward at the same pace.
Can you describe a typical working day?
I am leading the formation of a new highway’s maintenance company, NY Highways Ltd, a teckal business wholly-owned by North Yorkshire County Council. I started my current position in September 2020 so I’m afraid a typical day has been a lot of online meetings during COVID-19. However, I have been lucky that I’ve been able to working depots too where you learn so much. NY Highways Ltd takes on the North Yorkshire County Council maintenance contract from June 2021, so the majority of this early phase has been in setting up the business, procuring contracts and putting in the foundations that will allow the business to service the roads of North Yorkshire from June.
Are there any particular challenges or unusual aspects to your role?
Obviously, COVID has presented challenges to how our services are delivered on behalf of our constituents. Working from home, for example, presents practical challenges for managers.
Also, no other teckal highways company has been formed after private sector outsourcing. The challenges of setting up a business like this from scratch are considerable but the county council has invested significant resources to ensure we are ready, and the initial priority is that the public in North Yorkshire sees no difference in delivery despite the change.
What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
It’s exciting to be in at ground level in this managing director role. It offers me a chance to put all that I’ve learned in highways and construction over 25 years into this one project and business setup. Overall, however, I just enjoy highways and I’m passionate about its success nationally.
What contributed to your decision to become professionally registered?
Honestly, letters and titles had never meant that much to me; however, being part of a community of like-minded professionals sharing ideas and best practice has been invaluable to my learning.
Is there any advice you would pass on to someone considering professional registration?
Take the plunge; you’ll not be disappointed at any level of your career. Don’t be concerned about any misconceptions of snobbishness, which can be a concern to those entering highways professional bodies later in their careers and to non-university graduates. The IHE is supportive from the leadership right down through the organisation.
Tell us about a great professional achievement or high-profile accomplishment
As managing director I’ve taken on some projects and businesses in real need of support, to turn around downward trends or financial losses. Turning round a business, contract or project is really enjoyable to me and I love the challenge, but as I do so I also revel in the people management side, watching the growth of individuals and seeing them achieve their potential.
What do you consider the biggest challenges facing the highways and transportation industry?
Skills and knowledge gaps are still the biggest concern this industry faces. We’ve broadly shown in highways that we are, to an extent, recession proof but the ageing highways workforce and lack of younger entrants continues to be a concern. We often talk about this issue but I’m not seeing us moving fast enough to address the problem.
What are your ambitions and where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I try not to put too much pressure on myself. I know I’ll not leave highways; it’s been my career and the making of me as an individual. Towards the end of my career, I’d like to find ways to give
more back to an industry that’s supported me, but for now if I’m still operating as a managing director in highways in five years, I’ll be happy.
Do you participate in any other career-related activities, such as mentoring, volunteering or membership of other engineering groups?
I am part of the LCRIG Infrastructure Innovations Board, an organisation I respect for having brought so many councils together. I see volunteering activities as day-to-day requirements of being a leader in highways. I will always look to mentor younger people in our industry and my door is always open for advice. I’m particularly passionate about apprenticeships, having been an apprentice myself, and we must continue to evolve apprenticeships into extended career paths to ensure we retain talent in the industry. Leading in highways at a relatively senior position should not be seen as an add on; it should be just part of your role.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Earlier in my highways career I was part of a charity (RTBI or Round Table as many know it) raising money for local causes, I did that for 12 years, enjoying it immensely. Nowadays I don’t get a lot of spare time, but on those odd occasions I do, I just enjoy punishing myself watching Newcastle United.