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Ground investigation
Geotechnical consultancy
Contaminated land assessment

My industrial placement with GEA

February 28, 2018
by Olivia

My name is Olivia Houghton and I am currently a one-year placement student at GEA, based in their head office in Ware, Hertfordshire. The placement is part of the Industrial Bursary Scheme which I got through studying Engineering Geology and Geotechnics at the University of Portsmouth and I will be going back there to complete my third year in September 2018.

Since working here, I have been involved in a range of projects from basement excavations in London, to much bigger site investigations for proposed school and housing development sites. At GEA I have the role of Trainee Geotechnical Engineer which means I have my own jobs to run and manage, with support from my supervisor.

I initially worked at GEA in 2016 in the summer between my first year and second year of university and completed a two-month placement. In this placement I learnt the basics such as soil logging and how to use programs such as Geodasy and AutoCAD. In this short period of time I started to learn how to write desk studies which was very useful when it came to my second year coursework. Also, during my summer placement, I visited a variety of sites and saw things such as a cable percussive drilling rig, a Terrier rig and both manual and machine excavated trial pitting.

Now during my placement year, I work a lot more independently. In order to give you an indication of what I do, I am going to run through a typical week as a trainee geotechnical engineer at GEA.


This morning I went monitoring at three sites in Hampstead, north London. This included groundwater monitoring to measure the groundwater levels beneath the site, ground gas monitoring to record concentrations of gases such as CO2 and methane, and standpipe pressure and using the PID to measure and record VOCs. On one of these sites I am currently undertaking a groundwater monitoring programme - I am monitoring throughout the pre-construction and construction phase then six months after the development has been completed as this is required by planning conditions. When I came back late afternoon, I made my final corrections on a report that was due to be issued. It was then passed onto one of my colleagues who checked on my grammar, spelling and contents page and it was then issued to the client. After this I compiled my bill of final quantities to pass on to our company secretary, so an invoice can be issued.


It’s an earlier start for me this morning as I had to start on site at 8:30 am in Royston. I arrived on site slightly earlier than the crew, so I cracked on with scanning out the potential borehole locations. I then greeted the crew and my supervisor for the job and we discussed and confirmed where the boreholes would be located and ran through the site safety protocols. On this job we were doing shallow sampling by means of a Terrier rig and drilled to 5.0 m in chalk. The chalk was logged and sampled and during logging I noticed we had head deposits below the made ground underlain by the chalk. The day goes to plan, and we backfill and reinstate the four boreholes early afternoon. I see the crew off and check that the site is left clean and tidy and then head back to the office to drop off my samples and to start compiling the borehole logs. When I got back I was just in time for the company weekly meeting where we sit down and discuss which jobs we have and when they are planning to be issued. I later on compile my testing schedules for my samples and arrange a next day pick up from the labs.


When I came in this morning I completed my site plan and preliminary findings, checked my logs and gave them to my supervisor so she could check through them. I started to fill in the gaps on the report I’d written, mainly focusing on Part 2 as I had completed Part 1 prior to this week. I usually have around three to four projects on the go at one time so there is a constant cycle of site work, preliminary findings and reports which all overlap. That morning I also received my preliminary UXO risk assessment report which I ordered from a UXO specialists for a report I am writing, and it confirmed there is no risk of UXO on a site. I ordered this as the site was in London in an area that had received a high bomb density and when looking on the historical maps there were ruins in close proximity to the site. After receiving this last piece of information needed I finished the desk study, printed out the appendices and put all of this in my managing director’s desk so he can check it.


Today I started off my day visiting a site in central London where we had a dismantlable rig on site. I hadn’t seen a dismantlable cable percussive rig yet, so I visited a site where it was set up in a small arch with only a few centimetres room between the top of the rig and the ceiling! I then took samples from the made ground as they were needed for contamination testing and took some from the top of the London Clay as one of the boreholes didn’t encounter any made ground. I also took a couple of photos of the rig set up for the GEA Instagram. After this, I visited another site where I helped my colleague with any jobs that needed doing. On this site there was a cable percussion rig which was aiming to go to 20 m and machine excavated trial pitting to dig out foundations. I also met a UXO specialist on site as he had to scan all intrusive works in case of any UXO risk. I scanned out the next locations with a CAT scanner for the cable percussive rig and then went to groundwater monitor a nearby site. By this time, it was late afternoon and I made my way back to the office to drop off the samples.


Today I spent the first part of my morning writing up a borehole log in Geodasy, our borehole log software, for a borehole that was drilled the other day for the site I visited yesterday. During this time, I was given a new desk study to run, so I had a look through the folder to understand the proposed development and get a better idea of the job. I then ordered the Envirocheck report and start to fill out a project launch review from which we talk over with our supervising engineer. At this stage I confirm the purpose and the scope of the work and start looking at the desk study findings. During this I confirm the geology and check the maps to see if there’s any possible UXO or contamination risk and check if the site is likely to be affected by migrating landfill gas. Once I have finished doing this, I speak through this with my supervisor and they sign it off. This means I can now start writing the desk study and contact the client to arrange access for a site walkover. I am currently waiting to start on a big project in the next few weeks to gather data for my dissertation project, so I started looking through the job folder to get an idea of the job before it starts right at the end of the day.

I hope this summarises what it is like to be a trainee geotechnical engineer at GEA. Every day is different here and every job offers a new challenge. I get to cover all aspects of ground investigation and geotechnical engineering and experience a range of sites.

Working at GEA has helped me acquire experience in Phase 1 desk studies, ground investigation, interpretative reporting and monitoring a range of sites. This role is allowing me to apply and develop various skills acquired through my first year and second year studies, whilst simultaneously preparing me for my final year. So far, I have experience working individually and managing my own jobs with the supervision of senior engineers and have been undertaking a split of in-office and on-site operations, developing important skills and enjoying it at the same time.

I thoroughly enjoy working at GEA as the office environment is very relaxed and makes you feel at ease, there is a lot of open communication and there is always someone to ask for help.

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My industrial placement with GEA

February 28, 2018
by Olivia

My name is Olivia Houghton and I am currently a one-year placement student at GEA, based in their head office in Ware, Hertfordshire. The placement is part of the Industrial Bursary Scheme which I got through studying Engineering Geology and Geotechnics at the University of Portsmouth.

Read more