Graduates: Start on the floor and work up - In training as a chemical engineer, Jonathan Hall has learnt by listening to others

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The Independent Online
JONATHAN HALL graduated from Teesside Polytechnic in 1990 with a degree in chemical engineering and joined Rhone-Poulenc Chemicals at Avonmouth, Avon, where he is approaching the end of a two-year graduate training scheme to prepare him for chartered membership of the Institution of Chemical Engineers.

'I worked as a technologist for my first 18 months, initially on a multi-purpose pilot plant. This involved transferring new processes from the laboratory to pilot-scale production. Then I worked on various other projects, including the treatment of organic waste. After that I had five months on the 'floor' of the fluoroaromatic plant, problem solving and optimising the process by fine tuning: changing the temperatures of the boilers, vacuum settings, reflux ratios at the top of the distillation column, and so on.

'In February I became an assistant maintenance engineer. I'm the link between production and the maintenance section, which includes mechanical, electrical and instrumentation. I ensure that all priorities are understood, agree deadlines with production, and at the end of the day am accountable for ensuring that the maintenance is done to those deadlines.

'I've also been on about six courses on various subjects as part of my training programme: communications, sales and marketing, leadership and team development, introduction to financial management, and safety management.

'The best parts of the job are when you're actually out there solving problems and when you're making changes either to the procedure or to the process and can see from the results that they've been good changes.

'I'd say to any young engineer coming into their first job: don't just dive in] When I first worked on the plant I was surrounded by operators who'd been there 20 years. They know what they're doing and don't need some kid from university coming in and laying down the law. When you start, it's important to talk to these guys, listen to them, and learn about the plant and the process before you start making decisions.

'In September I'm due to finish my training and take up my first management post. I'd like to stay in maintenance for the time being - I enjoy the hands-on experience and seeing exactly how every bit of equipment works. It's also giving me man-management experience. In the longer term I'd like to move to production and become a plant manager - moving more into management but still using my technical knowledge.'

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