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Member of the Month
Simon White MEng CEng FIHE
- Monday March 22, 2021
Divisional Director – Highways, Dyer & Butler
What inspired you to become an engineer or pointed you towards an engineering career?
As a child of the eighties I was a Lego fanatic – never following the instructions but creating all sorts of structures, definitely a few bridges. I remember being amazed driving through the major motorway widening projects of the time, wondering at the sheer scale of human endeavour. All of this was capped off with a great two week experience designing parts for oil rigs. It was civil engineering all the way from the age of 14.
What made you join the IHE?
I am a very new member of the IHE. While I have been in the highways sector for over 20 years, I hadn’t aligned to a professional body within the sector itself. At Dyer & Butler we are encouraging our people, whatever their background, role, or career route, to consider professional development and this must start at the top. Having worked closely with current President Stephen Webb and
CEO Steve Spender in my career, it was their encouragement to explore the IHE that ultimately led me joining.
Has your professional registration benefited you and your employer?
Yes, very much so. Professional registration brings many benefits because it is industry-wide recognition of so many important attributes – professionalism, expertise, experience, values and integrity. Becoming a chartered engineer has certainly provided me with a great foundation for my career and facilitated progression. Most importantly, it has helped prepare me for the challenges and opportunities of each new role and more recently to progress to becoming a Fellow of both IHE and ICE. Similarly, for my employer Dyer & Butler, professionalism is a vital part of what we are about. Truly professional expertise is vital when delivering complex projects directly for our clients such as Highways England, Network Rail and Heathrow Airport.
What makes an organisation ‘professional’?
Well, the competence and professionalism of its people. Our success is entwined in this and that’s why we encourage and support all our engineers to pursue professional registration and continue to develop and learn. The IHE has run a ‘lunch and learn’ session for Dyer & Butler’s highways division, which has encouraged a good number of colleagues to start or restart their professional development.We are also working with IHE to deliver training modules in asphalt and traffic management to improve knowledge.
Is there any advice you would like members to take into consideration?
Actively consider and find out all you can about professional registration. Speak to those who have gone through the process. I know how daunting it can sometimes seem if you have to undertake additional study or development on top of a busy day job. But I can assure everyone it is so rewarding in so many ways to develop new skills, gain new knowledge and give yourself the best possible footing for career progression.
Please describe your role or position within your workplace.
I am divisional director for Dyer & Butler’s highways division. I am responsible for leading more than 150 people who deliver highway improvement works for local authorities – mainly through 16
long-term frameworks – and for Highways England. My role entails all elements of business management including safety, financial, commercial, operations and business development. As part of the Dyer & Butler executive team I also have a role leading the wider business. I really enjoy sponsoring some of our internal best practice groups including our project management forum and our workforce engagement meetings.
Can you describe a typical working day?
It’s varied and that is why I like the job so much. I can be engaging with our frontline project teams, talking to senior clients about solving their complex challenges and working in our executive team to make our business even better – all on the same day.
Are there any particular challenges or unusual aspects to your role?
In addition to our core highways business, I am also responsible for delivering key framework contracts in our ports and power sectors, which share similar delivery skillsets. While the core scope of works is quite similar to highways, the wider approach in these sectors differs. I really enjoy the opportunity this presents for cross-sector learning.
What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
It’s the old cliché but it’s true – it’s the people who make our industry so great. I am a people person and thrive on meeting terrific people who are all passionate about the importance of highways.
Tell us about one of your high profile accomplishments?
There are a few that stand out, but I think it has to be back in 2014 when I was at the frontline of the major flooding event in Somerset – supporting the county council with the immediate emergency response, the subsequent clearup and then rapid delivery of major projects to reduce further flooding and mitigate its impacts. It is some of the best collaboration I have seen in the industry. Adversity generates the best in all of us, and the COVID pandemic is no exception.
What do you consider the biggest challenges facing the highways and transportation industry?
In the short-term, the greatest challenge is continuing to navigate our way through the global pandemic. In many ways, the continued spend in our sector has protected us better than some. However, it has been a challenging time for so many of our colleagues. A real concern is the lasting impact from the mental health toll the pandemic has created. At Dyer & Butler we have increased our number of trained mental health ambassadors, including each member of the executive team. We have one of our ambassadors on call at any time of the day or night in a business that operates around the clock.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
An important part of my remit is about how we can shape and bring together the capability and value offering that exists within our wider operating businesses across M Group Services; not just within the highway sector, but also our water, energy and telecom sectors. I look forward to seeing how we can develop our capability to build and maintain the digital road of the future. So, in five years, I see myself still engaged in the highway sector but also sharing some of our industry’s best practice with other sectors and vice versa.
Do you participate in any other career-related activities such as mentoring or volunteering?
I have recently been appointed chair of the new Highway Maintenance Group for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association. The group has been established to represent companies delivering maintenance works in the sector – a key need since the Highways Term Maintenance Association closed last year. We are focusing on five themes that members see as industry priorities – health, safety and wellbeing, carbon neutrality, collaborative procurement, longer-term pipeline visibility and productivity. In these early stages, I am liaising closely with other industry bodies to ensure we are not duplicating effort but collaboratively supporting wider industry initiatives and change.
What do you do in your spare time?
Aside from being an avid kayaker, I have a real passion for travel and experiencing new places and cultures. I also have a love for iconic bridges and my family are very patient with me as we tick off the next structure during holidays. I have had the pleasure of crossing some of the greatest – from the Golden Gate to Sydney Harbour to Brooklyn. However, nothing compares to Brunel’s Suspension Bridge in my home city of Bristol!