Alan Cruickshank is an Associate Consultant at Stroud Consulting – an engineering consultancy firm that works across the mining, energy, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods and manufacturing industries!
Alan began his engineering career at the prestigious University of Cambridge in the UK and after two years, specialized in Manufacturing Engineering and stayed on to complete a Masters in the field.
Stroud Consulting seeks to hire people from engineering and financial backgrounds, among others, and give graduates the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects across the globe. Alan is shooting off to Germany next week and says that at Stroud, you get to see the results of your work quickly.
Find out what lessons he learnt at Cambridge, what qualities you need to get hired at Stroud Consulting, and what it is like to work in the engineering consulting world!
What is your job description and what do you do on a daily basis at Stroud Consulting?
Stroud helps the businesses we work with to find more opportunity in their operations than they previously believed possible, and we help them go and make those opportunities happen. Day to day, I do lots of different things, from working with guys on a production line solve technical problems to helping management put together plans, and change how they approach improvement. In my first year, my projects have ranged from two weeks to three or four months.
We believe quite strongly that in consulting, if you go into a business as an expert in a particular industry, the employees who have been working there for years will know more about their process than you anyway. So what we bring is not subject experience. We bring the ability, tools and belief to find the opportunities to improve, and then use the knowledge to go and make the results happen.
Are you working on any specific projects at the moment?
This week, I’ve been heavily involved with European recruiting, but next week I go onto a new project in Germany. It is a completely international career: the business has three offices - one in London, one in Boston and one in Calgary. From the London office, we work all over Europe.
What type of candidates do you look to hire at Stroud Consulting?
We’re looking to hire people from any background, not just exclusively engineers. It’s about being able to look at a problem and find a solution, working in teams and understanding how theory relates to the real world. Lots of us are engineers, but we also have lots of scientists and some people from economics and business backgrounds.
Do you have any advice for aspiring engineers hoping to start an engineering consulting career?
Looking back on the things I got the most out of while studying, the technical stuff is important, but where you make a difference is by doing stuff in teams, and learning the skills to lead people.
While it’s important to know the technical things, there’s a huge number of people that can do that. There’s a massive number of people that can solve problems. The rare skill is to be able to lead a group of people and bring people together to solve not just a hard problem, but get everyone to agree on the solution!
What makes things move faster is being precise about the goals of the team and knowing how we’re going to achieve them. Getting everyone to agree on that is the hardest part.
I recommend engineers seek out challenging things to do in groups, not just on their own.
What is the best thing about working at Stroud Consulting?
Firstly, you can see the work you do has an immediate impact. We don’t just write a report that goes to someone’s drawer; it’s very much about implementing stuff and seeing the results, that’s the big thing.
Secondly, it’s also that we get to work with a wide variety of people who are all very clever, competent and driven, across Europe and other parts of the globe. You get to see lots of processes in a wide range of places.
What field of engineering did you study at Cambridge and what interested you about that field?
At Cambridge, its general engineering for the first two years, and in the last two I specialised in Manufacturing Engineering. Having done two years of general engineering, I felt I had a good grounding of the core principals of the subject, and it was a case of figuring out what it was that I wanted to learn more in.
I had the choice of going off to electrical, mechanical and aeronautical engineering, but to me, all of those were just learning the same things in more depth.
What attracted me to manufacturing was the mixture of design and a bit of management, along with the opportunity to learn a different set of skills. I was looking for a different skill-set.
What lessons can you take from your Engineering degree at Cambridge into your career?
The biggest one was that coming up with a clever solution is often only half the challenge. Some problems are hard to solve, but the harder part is to make change happen. Getting people to follow your process or getting someone to implement your design; that part of the process, which is often overlooked, is quite critical.
I started to see that at university. That’s the lesson I’ve learnt and taken into my career.
Would you have got as far in your career without an engineering education?
I'm not sure! I’m glad I did it and looking at my friends, I feel as though people who studied engineering have more doors open to them than almost any other profession.
My class at Cambridge is now doing a huge range of things. Some of them have moved into product design, banking in the City, joined the navy or army, done charity work, become teachers; it opens a huge range of career choices. So even if you don’t know what you want to do, engineering is always a good choice from my perspective.
Has the professional engineering world lived up to your expectations?
While I was thinking about engineering, I expected it to be split into the different fields of engineering, such as Civil, Mechanical and Electrical. What I’ve seen more and more is that not only are the different disciplines more linked that they appear, but that there are all kinds of interesting grey areas between them, where some really cool stuff happens.
Just look at modern cars, they are a fusion of some very clever mechanics, design, electronics, aerodynamics and even computer and information engineering. Engineering will always be the core of our society and it’s an exciting place to be.
To find out more about Stroud Consulting and how you can launch a career there, click here.