My career: Clive Williams

12th January 2011


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IEMA

Contaminated land specialist, Clive Williams, shares his experiences of a career in environment

Clive Williams, contaminated land specialist at Halcrow GroupClive Williams
Contaminated land specialist, Halcrow Group

Why did you become an environmental professional?

There was no work in mining when I graduated, so I took the first job that I could find. That might sound a little flippant but the reality of the downturn in the early 90s meant there was little or no work around in my chosen field (quarrying and mining) and I cast my net as wide as possible to take what there was.

What was your first environment job?

Research associate in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.

How did you get the job?

I’m not sure. I had applied to do a PhD in hydrogeology, attended an interview for that and didn’t get it but they had some funding to undertake a pilot study for a short while and offered it to me.

How did you progress your environment career?

Hard work, and training, as well as never saying no to doing something new. My specialisation in contaminated land has seen a great deal of change and I cannot overstate the importance of keeping yourself up to date with changes in legislation, best practice and new ideas. Also, I got my start at Geraghty & Miller by being available to start at short notice.

What does your current role involve?

I am responsible for ensuring technical work is produced in accordance with best practice and consequently I spend much of my time reviewing reports and fielding queries from colleagues. The bulk of my work is in assessing risks from contamination and guiding development proposals through the planning system but I provide advice on reusing materials and general waste management as well, which requires knowledge of environmental regulations. I also prepare ground conditions and waste chapters for environmental impact assessments.

How has your role changed?

I have more of an overseeing role now with less fieldwork and site supervision, which is great in the winter. I tend to be reviewing reports prepared by others in the team and am asked to offer guidance and opinions. A particularly pleasing aspect of my job is mentoring colleagues through formal professional accreditations with bodies, such as IEMA or Halcrow’s internal Technical Excellence programme.

What’s the best and hardest part of your job?

I would say that resolving a problem is the most satisfying aspect of my work. Being thanked for doing so is even better. The hardest is explaining to non-specialists how human-health risk assessment works.

What was the last training course you attended and what did you bring back to your job?

Waste Code of Practice training day. It showed me how this new regime is going to change the way in which remediation and development projects will be managed and regulated in the future.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?

Specifically an eye for detail to make sure all the data needed to make an assessment is there. Important skills include problem solving, flexibility and a sense of humour for when your boss sends you out to dip a borehole with half a metre of snow on the ground. Good communication is essential, particularly the ability to explain complex technical aspects of your job to non-specialists.

Where do you see the environment profession going?

I can see the environment profession maturing as the issues we deal with are given greater prominence in society. Standards and professional accreditation will improve and other areas of industry and commerce will see that involving environmental professionals in projects early will benefit them.

Where would like to be in five years’ time?

Still doing the job I’m doing, I enjoy it and that is important. In five years’ time the job will have evolved still further and will be very different to what I’m doing now.

What advice would you give to someone considering going into the environment profession?

The key is to remain flexible so that you can adapt to change. Also, maintain your development so that you stay abreast of new legislation, new processes and changes in best practice. And, in today’s economic climate, keep an open mind, perhaps taking a job that would otherwise not be your chosen field – you never know where a career is going to end up, as mine will perhaps testify.

Career file:

Qualifications:

BSc, MSc, Chartered geologist, specialist in land condition, registered environmental auditor, Waste Code of Practice qualified person

1997 to now:

Contaminated land specialist, Halcrow Group

1993–96:

Hydrogeologist, Geraghty & Miller International

1992–93:

Research associate, University of East Anglia

1990:

Assisting geologist, Laporte Minerals

1988–89:

Assistant geologist, Steetley Quarry Product

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