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Member Profile: Matthew Henderson CEng MEI Chartered Energy Engineer
When did you first become interested in energy?
For me, the energy sector has always been framed as a key battleground in fighting climate change. Growing up in Somerset, the debate closer to home centred on the implications of building a proposed tidal barrage across the river Severn, or building Hinkley Point C. The scale and ambition of the tidal barrage and lagoon proposal excited me, and made me aware of the complexity and wide ranging factors that needed consideration – all against the backdrop of an increasing need to act.
Tell us a little about your current job
I work for SSE Renewables, the UK and Ireland’s biggest renewable operator, as the Subsea and Structural Engineering Manager for the operational offshore wind portfolio. I lead a diverse team spread across England and Scotland monitoring and maintaining SSE Renewables’ operating assets while providing input into new build projects. This involves the planning and execution of inspection and maintenance campaigns, evaluating new technology, managing existing and emergent risk factors and providing technical input into wider asset management processes. The most enjoyable aspect is collaborative problem solving within a team which spans a range of backgrounds, each with different experience, perspectives and approach. Managing assets as they age in a comparatively young industry can provide a range of opportunities to innovate and re-evaluate existing practices.
What inspired you to pursue this career, and what path did you take to get there?
I never thought I’d end up in engineering. I toyed with the idea of going into teaching as I finished university (having done a Natural Sciences degree), but decided I wanted to work directly on projects within the energy transition – and being based in Norfolk I graduated just as Greater Gabbard (now my home site) and Sheringham Shoal were under construction off East Anglia’s coast. I was fortunate to find a local company willing to take me on, initially in a market analyst capacity, then as a project engineer in the inspection services division.
As part of the team there, I managed statutory inspection work scopes across multiple sites along the East Coast, and supported the development of risk-based written schemes of examination, which reduced the number of visits required to turbines each year. This is a process I’ve now brought in-house at SSER, and remains one of the functions I and my team perform which gives me greatest pride, as it optimises the efficiency of our operations while explicitly managing the safety implications.
How has being a Chartered Engineer benefitted you in your career?
Becoming a Chartered Engineer only really became an achievable aim once I joined SSER, as I was exposed to a wider range of activities and given responsibility to make informed decisions in my area. Like many people in a new role I started with more than a touch of imposter syndrome. I had a narrow but deep knowledge from my previous experience and wanted to demonstrate a sustainable and well thought-out approach in all I did, and ensure that as I was given wider opportunities I conducted myself to the highest professional standards.
The process of applying to be a Chartered Engineer is an immensely reflective one, which forces you to consider projects completed and lessons learned with the benefit of hindsight. Like many things, the joy is in the journey rather than the destination - so while getting more letters after your name doesn’t suddenly make you a better engineer, the application process and analysis of your career to date definitely does.
What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring Chartered Engineer?
The one message I relay to engineers starting off their application is not to rush. The process of compiling and revising your application and assessing your own strengths and weaknesses is the most valuable aspect, and it may highlight areas where there’s more opportunity to gain more experience. The potential pitfall I initially fell into when applying for chartership is thinking I was expected to be all things to all people, but the opposite is true. The most important aspect I learned from my mentors is that chartership is about having faith in your own abilities, but having a very clear understanding about your own remit and limitations. Most work is best conducted in teams, with a range of skills and backgrounds. All employers and organisations require effective team players who know exactly what skills they can provide.
Away from work, what do you like to do in your spare time?
One of the few up-sides of the last couple of years has been really becoming more aware of the natural world in my local area. I’m fortunate to live on the edge of the Norfolk Broads and really started to get into long walks and wildlife photography. Since growing up in Somerset, I’ve always been a fan of watching and playing cricket.
And finally… What does your Chartered Engineer accreditation truly mean to you?
In a relatively young industry, even with some of the immensely talented professionals I’ve met and worked alongside, no one person can claim to hold all the answers. As someone who started off as a lost science graduate, my Chartered Engineer accreditation gives me a validation that I’ve accrued a skillset that gives me the capability to tackle a range of issues, and mentor others along a similar pathway.