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Peter Thompson on guest lecturing at Plymouth University

It was incredibly surreal going back on the train, on a journey I hadn’t made for a long time. As I got closer, I started to recognise all parts here and there, and it made me reflect massively on the times before but also the ones I’ve had since.

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Over the last couple of years I noticed that it’s been harder and harder for graduates to get a job straight out of university which is not good. It’s much tougher compared to what it used to be. It was simple – you got a degree in from Plymouth and you were guaranteed a job in the survey industry after. That’s all changed.

But it is coming back, albeit through a period of disruption. The traditional pathways of getting into the industry have altered. It’s not the big dominant oil and gas companies ruling the roost anymore; you don’t get survey companies coming down and hiring 10 graduates.

I knew from being in recruitment that the new people coming out needed a more up-to-date understanding of how things work now. It’s very difficult for tutors to have that immediate knowledge simply because they’re not recruiting and are removed from the swings of industry demand.
The impact is that it becomes difficult to advise students on best way to get into the industry.

A few months ago I got in touch with the University as I wanted a chance to give back. Plymouth had given me a great career and I felt I could use my perspective to help graduates better appreciate what they needed to do to actually get a career after their degree.

Together with some colleagues, Richard Watson and Timon de Boer, we set up the session with the students. Together we had a fairly good range of experience and understanding.  Richard is a business development manager for N-SEA; Timon is an offshore party chief and project surveyor who also works for N-SEA.

From left: Richard Watson (N-SEA), Timon de Boer (Freelance Surveyor) and Peter Thompson (Precise Consultants). Photo by: Amber Wyles, Plymouth University

I was really impressed with Plymouth University when we finally arrived. So much development has gone on since I’d left. It’s completely different, and looks fantastic.

We picked the last day of exams by accident, and it meant while there were some very eager students in the lecture hall, most were in the pub celebrating. I don’t blame them – it’s where I would have been! But for those who joined us, I think they got a lot out of it.

I gave a talk and discussed the general health of industry. It wasn’t designed to be a recruitment exercise for Precise Consultants as we hire people with a few years under their belt. But what I wanted to do was make sure these newbies were going to make it through to that stage. With the various pressures faced by freelancers at the moment that’s no guarantee.

Timon’s talk focussed on the unique lifestyle of being an offshore worker. It can be very alternative, surprising. He’s impressed by the new blood – he sees first-hand the work ethic they display. It’s essential now to be very flexible, and have a positive attitude.  

Richard shared his perspective on the opportunities which can be open to surveyors, how you can start as this but end up in other roles. He’s a Business Development Manager and travels the world, selling survey services. Whilst he’s very knowledgeable about surveying, he probably hasn’t done any in about eight years. In fact I think I was on his last trip in 2010.

There were some good questions in the session afterwards, with students asking about best and worst places I’d worked and what skills are critical to employers these days (AutoCad, macro building in Excel).

We did naturally end up in the pub at the end, and it was impressive to hear from the lecturers and university staff about how focussed they are on making course into something that’ll create a quality product in terms of a surveyor, ensuring their graduates can turn up on day one and be useful. They not caught up in anything that isn’t focused on well-being of the students. It was really nice.

As soon as the students started talking shots, I bought a round and caught the next train back to London. I think that was the first time I’ve ever been in a bar in Plymouth and not been the last out the door. Times, they’re a changin’..

I’m looking forward to going back down in December. This definitely wasn’t a one-off. I think what I’d like to see really is more people with something to offer getting involved with universities and helping to support the next generation. If we can help the people coming in, we’ll all benefit.