James Shanley

MEng Civil and Railway Engineering with Industrial Year, 2019
Engineering Manager, High Speed Two Ltd

My role consists of being a trouble shooter as well as having to wear many hats, taking in the opinions of other interested parties and achieve the best outcome overall. I work in a very peculiar world in UK infrastructure, where there is heaving involvement from central Government and Parliament. My role is within a team whose aim is to achieve the passage of bills through Parliament so that HS2 has legal powers to construct a railway.

As part of that I must work with affected stakeholders who have concerns and try to mitigate any negative impacts to them where possible while not impeding HS2’s ability to build a railway. I have to assess construction and environmental impacts as well as any associated cost and risk impacts to HS2 in trying to find a design solution with our consultants.

What’s the best thing about what you’re doing now?

I love solving problems and having the ability to affect change, either by finding a solution or by knowing I’ve been involved in a process where I have either optimised the design of the HS2 proposal, helped a stakeholder with their concern and at the same time helping a proposed railway to become an act of Parliament that will profoundly improve the quality of public transport in this country for generations to come.

james shanley

What made you interested in your current role?

I have always wanted to work in the railway industry and finding a role within the company responsible for building the largest infrastructure project in Europe feels very satisfying.

How has your career developed since graduating?

I decided to take a gap year after five years at university. I went travelling in the autumn but the pandemic came along and interrupted my plans. Instead I embarked on a six month stint at Tesco working to restock the shelves overnight allowing me to both keep myself occupied, earn some money, and give back to society in such unprecedented times. It was while I was in this role I then started to apply for graduate positions. I applied to a number including HS2, where I would describe responses to my applications as mixed. I did get to half a dozen interviews or candidate days, where I ended up taking an offer to join HS2 on their graduate programme for September 2020. I remained in the graduate scheme doing three placement rotations in Delivery Sponsorship, Commercial Development and Infrastructure Management. I saw an internal vacancy for a role off the graduate scheme that interested me and applied and was successful. This led me to start my current role in HS2 in the Hybrid Bill Technical Team in April 2022.

What skills you learned from degree or time at university would you say you use most in your job?

Lately I have found, value and systems engineering to have been most useful, alongside construction phasing and timescales

We Are (Third Width)

What motivates you?

A sense of fulfilment that I am doing some good that may benefit others and or society. I also find myself more motivated when I work in a particular area of interest to me like so many others do. As I have followed HS2 pretty much since its inception, to work on making the project a reality really gets me going.

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?

Absolutely fundamental to this was the railway-specific elements of the course. I chose the course due to my passion for promoting and improving railway infrastructure in the UK.

What are your fondest memories of the University?

I think actually the social aspect and having a number of groups of friends through different common interests, whether that be through course mates or extracurricular activities where I met like-minded friends. I would also say that I came to Birmingham not really knowing much of the City or the University. The place really grew on my in a big way, I loved the campus feel while being in the city as well as the characterful nature of many parts of Birmingham itself. I feel a sense of homecoming whenever I visit now either through work or to see friends.

Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?

Yes, I was part of the university swimming team and transitioned into being a coach for the last three years of my degree.

How did your time at University help you start your career? What was your biggest influence?

The passion and influence of some of the lecturers and tutors I had. I would also say that it was working to strike a balance between social life, completing my uni work and other ‘work’ based commitments outside of university, as a swimming coach and teacher that helped me develop some of the soft skills you need when being able to ready yourself for full time employment.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you started your studies that would have better helped prepare you?

To throw yourself into activities that interest you as much as you can as soon as you can. Don’t be afraid to speak with your lecturers if you feel there is a legitimate course issue and take any opportunity that presents itself, you never know what doors they may open in the future.

Finally, what advice would you give to current students?

Apply for summer roles and years in industry, they really do help you stand out. Also don’t be afraid to do something that initially might seem a bit pointless or odd. For example, during my first year I was offered to do a placement year straight away with Network Rail. It didn’t fall traditionally in the right place (usually they’re at then end of 2nd or 3rd year), but after consulting with lecturers on the matter the consensus was to take it because you cannot guarantee it will come round at the time you wanted it to.

Wise words from James

“You may know where you want to go, you may not and that’s ok. Seize opportunities because if you are proactive ultimately you find where you want to end up even if you need to take a few stepping stones you might not be so keen on.”