Charles, specialist engineer in the Water Infrastructures Division of ENGIE subsidiary Tractebel Engineering France

Could you tell us about your most memorable international experiences with the Group?

Although international experience obviously opens career doors, my attraction to working in foreign countries is much more about discovering new things and new places. Having begun my career in France, I had the opportunity soon after joining Tractebel Engineering France to work as an expatriate in Africa contributing to major water infrastructure projects. The first was in 2008 in Algeria on a large-scale water infrastructure project management assignment covering the transfer of drinking water and water for irrigation, including the construction of three dams. Based in Algiers, my assignment lasted nearly two years and involved me acting as the interface between our Paris head office, the local engineering office and the project sites. On my return to head office, I continued to supervise the development of the project and traveled back to Algeria on many occasions. That first assignment in Algeria really sticks in my mind, because it introduced me to such a rich and interesting culture. The international bug bit me again when my department gave me the opportunity in 2012 to take up a residential opportunity on a dam construction site in Zimbabwe. As technical assistant to the prime contractor, I was able to contribute to adapting the initial design of the structure to optimize the construction process.

 

What challenges are you involved in on a daily basis?

My most recent experience in Zimbabwe was particularly challenging and exciting.  Being on site every day gave me the opportunity to see the practical outcome of my detailed technical and design work. The fact that everything was done in English as part of an international team with predominantly Zimbabwean, Italian and Pakistani members helped me feel more at ease and self-assured about working in new contexts.

 

Would you say that Africa offers every possibility for young engineers?

In water infrastructures, it’s a no-brainer.  More than 50% of all our water projects are in Africa, and hydropower remains an essential field.  For a civil engineer like me, there are some amazing opportunities out there. Dam construction demands a very varied range of technical skills – environmental, geological, hydraulic and seismic studies, finite element calculation, etc. – which extend beyond the structure itself to include all its associated infrastructures… tunnels, power plant, transformers, access roads, and so on. Every design is part of a wider context involving clients, decision-makers, investors and subcontractors. Every project detail is worked out in a context of non-negotiable considerations like safety, operations and maintenance. It’s this diversity of issues and the need to take all of them into account that make the job so fascinating.

 

Why would you encourage other young engineers to follow in your footsteps?

The international experience I’ve had so far has helped me to develop a much wider range of technical expertise in this core business area. It has also made me more open-minded and adaptable, both of which are essential factors for creativity in engineering. As a specialist in water infrastructure engineering, I’ve also had the chance to work on major projects on an impressive scale. I believe that I’ve found the right job for me, and one that is personally very rewarding.