Inside Jacobs

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Name: Solenn Le Pense

Job title: Senior Geo-digital Engineer

Company name: Jacobs

What does the company do and what areas does it specialise in?

Jacobs is a technology-enabled global solutions provider serving several markets. We provide a full spectrum of professional services including consulting, technical, scientific and project delivery for the government and private sector. Our tunnel and ground engineering team manages ground risks and geohazards on some of the most challenging projects globally.

Where is Jacobs located?

We operate from over 40 countries and 400 offices globally. We have a network of 30+ offices throughout the UK and 22 offices across continental Europe.

How many people does the company employ?

We have more than 55,000 people globally, about a fifth of whom are working from UK and Europe. Our tunnel and ground engineering team includes around 800 employees globally.

How long have you worked at Jacobs?

I have worked at Jacobs for over two years, since March 2020

What is your career background, and what enticed you to work for Jacobs?

I started my career in academic research, with a PhD in geotechnical engineering that I obtained in France. My PhD included a fair amount of code and software development, for application to the mathematical and numerical modelling of soils. Pushed by curiosity, broad interests and a willingness to travel, I moved away from geotechnical engineering for a while, and moved to the UK to join Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh) as a Research Associate. I was part of a research project in computational biomechanics, looking at how bone porous microstructure influences its mechanical behaviour (bone looks very much like a highly porous rock!), using finite element analysis software. I then decided to try out work outside of academia and joined a small start-up whose aim was to develop a novel airborne wind energy system that generates electricity by autonomously flying a tethered aircraft. I worked there for almost three years, and was responsible for developing modelling and analysis tools, including a flight simulator. The project was very stimulating and the team very motivated, and I did learn a lot about programming and software development (as well as aerodynamics, which was a bit outside my core area of expertise to start with!). When looking for my next job, I was then looking for a bit more stability, as well as a larger company where I could be surrounded by a lot of experienced colleagues (having found that was a limitation in a-20 people company). So, when I saw Jacobs advertising for a geo-digital engineer position, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to reconnect with my original geotechnical background, while further developing my recently developed skills and interest in programming and software development. The good reputation of Jacobs, well-known within the industry, as well as its large and experienced tunnel and ground engineering team, gave me the confidence that it would allow me to keep learning and grow as an engineer, while working on important and exciting projects.

What is your current role within Jacobs and what does a typical day entail?

I am currently a senior geo-digital engineer, part of the tunnel and ground engineering team, and am based in Glasgow. The role is very varied, and I really enjoy the diversity of tasks and projects I get to work on. Part of the role can include some traditional geotechnical engineering tasks, such as geotechnical data management and analysis, or design of geotechnical structures. Some of my core responsibilities are a bit less traditional and revolve around developing and programming design automation tools for geoscience and engineering applications. That does include a lot of programming (mainly in Python, but also C#) and software development processes. We are a team of programmers with engineering knowledge, and we can work together, or more individually depending on the size of the project. As a cross-market discipline we get to work on projects in multiple areas, such as transportation, water or energy, which makes the job varied and interesting.

What are the company’s core values?

As a company, we have four key values: we do things right, we challenge the accepted, we aim higher, and we live inclusion. We try to reflect this in our everyday work, both with clients and with each other.  Our values allow us to act as one company and unify us worldwide when interacting with our clients, employees, communities and shareholders.

Are there any projects or achievements which Jacobs are particularly proud to have been a part of?

We are very proud of the sustainable solutions we co-create with clients and other organizations. We look at ways to make a positive environmental, societal and economic difference for our people, businesses, governments and communities around the world. Some of our major programmes include the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games, Thames Tideway and TEAM2100, where we have provided sustainable infrastructure and help leave a legacy for future generations, clean our water and environment, or protect our coastlines and communities. There are of course many other projects where we live our purpose of providing a smarter, more connected and more sustainable world.

How important is sustainability within the company?

Sustainability is at the core of our business, and for us it means developing long-term business resilience and success, and positively contributing toward the global economy, society and the environment. It is not simply about avoiding harm, but about maximizing impact and stakeholder value, and striving to deliver a positive, fair and inclusive future for all in partnership with our clients. Our approach to sustainability is embodied by our PlanBeyondSM programme, which is our approach to integrating sustainability throughout our operations and client solutions in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

How does Jacobs support graduates and early career professionals who are entering the industry?

We invest in our graduates and early career professionals. Our Graduate Development Programme (GDP) takes our graduates through a 2-year programme of mentoring, skill building and networking to help build their careers; and professional accreditation schemes supporting staff through their chartership journeys. More widely, we implement apprenticeships to help early professionals obtain an academic qualification while working with us; drive STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) engagement and leadership throughout the business, including our own Butterfly Effect programme, which is driving sustainability in decision-making for young pupils.

How has COVID-19 impacted Jacobs today? Are there any policies which were made during the pandemic that have been kept to improve employee wellbeing and productivity?

Covid-19 has been a game changer for us as an industry. For one, we’ll never go back to see the same level of travel as before as people have adjusted to hybrid working and adopted technology to collaborate and deliver work. Employee wellbeing is of course at the heart of our business decisions, including raising awareness of mental health challenges, especially in a world where perhaps we don’t see our colleagues as often and regularly as we used to. An example of the work Jacobs has done in this space is the roll out of our One Million Lives web app. The free mental health check-in tool was created to help enhance users’ understanding of their current state of mind and provide proactive strategies for personal mental health development.

Why do you feel the AGS is important to the industry?

The AGS Data Format has been around for over 30 years, has become the industry standard and, in our experience, increasingly used for every project regardless of size or complexity. Comparison with other civil engineering disciplines allows us to see the benefit that this standard format provides, as our colleagues often lack an equivalent, vendor agnostic format. AGS data helps us to work with a data-orientated approach from the beginning of our projects and fits well with the BIM environment that has become more recently familiar. The AGS fulfil an important role in continuing to manage and evolve this format to suit the everchanging needs of our industry.

What are Jacobs’ future ambitions?

As a purpose-led company, Jacobs is passionate about leaving a positive legacy for generations to come. We are channelling our technology-enabled expertise and capabilities toward benefiting people and the planet, working closely with our clients to build a more sustainable, equitable future in the context of global environmental, social, and economic challenges. Launched this year, our 2022-2024 Boldly Moving Forward strategy responds to this and is built around three key accelerators, which we see at the heart of tomorrow’ solutions: climate response, consulting and advisory, and data solutions.