Some gap-year students go backpacking in South-east Asia. But the canny ones get paid to design toilets …

When did you hear about the Year In Industry scheme?

I heard about it from school. I wanted to do a gap year before starting a masters degree in electronic engineering at York University, but didn’t want to just mill around for a year – this way I learned some valuable skills and still managed to get to spend a couple of months in New Zealand halfway through the placement.

What did the work involve?

A bit of everything really. At first, I was just doing general work with the engineering staff at Nottingham East Midlands Airport – anything from changing light bulbs to getting parts for gear boxes.

So, what’s all this about toilets?

Dave Howell, the terminal engineering manager, asked me to come up with some quick sketches for the new toilet blocks. There was a need to create more space within the arrivals hall and also to increase the number of toilet facilities. When I had finished the sketches, I asked if I could do more and eventually came up with the final design. I also worked on the lighting scheme, the drainage diagrams and negotiated the free trial of a water-saving scheme that addressed the problem of water consumption in the toilet block. The solution I found already saves the airport about £6500 a year.

That’s quite a lot of responsibility for the work experience boy …

It was a bit of an uphill struggle at first as I had come in straight from doing my A-levels and didn’t have any experience. Dave Howell only gave me help when I asked for it, which made it difficult at first but meant I was forced to become more independent. I’d never drawn up a specification before, so for the main specification I had to go to the airport archive to look at previous mechanical and electrical specifications. I cut and pasted parts of these to form a hybrid specification that we could take to contractors.

Did you find it difficult to negotiate contractors?

At first, yes. I was meeting people who were different from anyone I’d been around before – the kind of guys who drink five pints at lunchtime and litter every sentence with random expletives.

Did you get support from the scheme?

Yes. Fortunately, at the start of the programme we were given a two-week course in things like team leadership, interview techniques and attitude training, which came in handy when I found myself dealing with older, more experienced people. It’s given me a far better background in working with contractors, which is essential for any kind of engineering.

Name Edward Watson
Age 19
Lives With his family in Stanton-on-the-Wolds, Nottingham
Qualifications A-levels in Maths, Physics and Electronics from Trent College, Nottingham. Edward has just finished a work placement with Year In Industry, a national charity-based scheme that places gap-year students and undergraduates with companies for paid, 12-month, degree-relevant work schemes
Hobbies "I enjoy drama, which is probably as far removed from engineering as you can get. You could say I’m a bit of a Jeckyll-and-Hyde personality!"