BAME Role Models 2020: Nipun Wijegunasekera
Date published

20 October 2020

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BAME Role Models 2020: Nipun Wijegunasekera

Date published
Date published

20 October 2020

In this piece Nipun Wijegunasekera tells us about the experiences that have shaped his career. He reflects on diversity and inclusivity, and offers his thoughts on the future.

What shaped your development as a structural engineer?

As a recent graduate, I looked to different places for development opportunities. I was able to expand my knowledge and skillset by using resources at work as well as those provided by the Institution.

I particularly enjoyed the talks on the IStructE website and those arranged by the Cambridge Young Members group. These gave me varied insights from different engineers and I was able to understand how they had shaped their careers. The talks also made me realise the many ways structural engineering can be applied within society. They inspired me to pursue more daring goals.
I felt my preparations for the Chartered Membership exam gave me a structured way of shaping my early learning. The core objectives set by the Institution are a good guide to becoming a rounded engineer. I used the objectives as a framework to supplement my knowledge and combined them with other personal interests such as architecture and design.

What role models have had a positive influence on you and your career?

I've had many role models through my education and early career. I was able to get an insight into the industry during my studies through my father, who is also a structural engineer. I would visit sites with him and we would discuss various structural problems and principles. We’d also bounce ideas off each other.

At work, I've been able to look to various individuals and learn from their strengths through observation and working on projects. I've found this to be a very effective way of picking up new ways of thinking and acquiring skills.
I've also been inspired by the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and Peter Rice. They have taken insights from different fields and used them in engineering design. This has motivated me to look to other non-engineering subjects and draw parallels to structural engineering.

What has been your career highlight so far?

Becoming a Chartered Member with the Institution was a very special milestone.
Another gratifying moment in my career was when I led the technical design on a project that was on a very quick construction programme. This project was handed over to me in a short period of time when construction of some of the phases had already started. I was responsible for delivering the connection design of the remainder of the scheme and liaising with the subcontractor during the construction phase.

Time management was key on this project. I had to spend some time upfront understanding the overall design philosophy of the building, whilst designing connections to some components and answering construction queries. There were a few late nights on the project, but it was a great learning experience. It was very satisfying when the project was shortlisted for a Wood Award.

Have you experienced any type of bias in your working career and if so, how were you able to handle it?

Having worked in ethnically diverse and progressive teams at work, I have not encountered any bias that has negatively affected me. I have often found that being from a different ethnic background has led to positive conversation. People want to learn more about my background and culture. With engineering being a scientific subject, I feel those engaged in the profession focus on merit and competence and move past racial labels.
That said, there may be other workstreams within the construction industry where bias negatively affects individuals.    

What three things would help structural engineering become truly inclusive for those in the BAME community?

Firstly, I believe we need to identify reasons perceived as barriers to those in the BAME community entering and engaging with the industry. If we can identify and recognise these issues, then we can deliver change that will materially alter these perceptions.

Early awareness and education about engineering and how it can shape society is key to making the industry more appealing. This would give students a better understanding of what the profession is about and motivate them to join the industry.

Lastly, seeing people of similar ethnic backgrounds in prominent places within the industry will encourage people to join the industry. It will also help them feel that they are a natural fit.

This blog is part of a series written by leading Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) engineers. They share how they got into engineering, their career highlights, and their thoughts on how racial parity in engineering can be achieved.


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