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The best and brightest will be recognized at NAT in June

The North American Tunneling Conference will kick off on Monday, June 24 in Nashville, TN with an opening plenary session that will recognize some of the best and brightest people and projects in the tunneling industry.

Among the highlights of program will be the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award. This year, Gary A. Almeraris, Skanska; Randall J. Essex, Mott MacDonald and W.D. “Toby” Wightman, retired will be recognized for their outstanding careers. Other notable awards will be the recognition of a pair of projects. The HJAIA Plane Train Tunnel West Extension Project in Atlanta, GA was named the UCA Project of the Year between $50 million and $500 million while the Northeast Boundary Tunnel in Washington, DC will be recognized as UCA’s Project of the Year greater than $500 million.

Other awards include the UCA Muddy Boots Award to Sean Sladicka, Kiewit Corp; the UCA Outstanding Educator to Mike Mooney, Colorado School of Mines and the UCA Person of the Year to Robert Goodfellow, Aldea Services

Rajat Gangrade was named the UCA Young Member of the Year. He recently spoke with T&UC about his career and his perspective of the challenges the industry is facing.

T&UC: What attracted you tunneling?

Gangrade: Tunnel boring machine (TBM) operation and TBM-ground interaction were highly interesting to me as it involved principles of physics and soil mechanics. I was tasked with reviewing TBM selection for seven contract packages of the 34-km (21-mile) underground metro corridor in Mumbai, India. I researched quite a bit on that topic and came across publications by the faculty at the Colorado School of Mines. This primarily was an engaging experience and pushed me toward pursuing a Ph.D. in tunneling. Additionally, an idea of working with a cross-functional team intrigues me because I see it as an opportunity to unlearn and re-learn from people with diverse technical backgrounds.

T&UC: What is your education background?

Gangrade: Bachelor’s in civil and environmental engineering from VJTI, Mumbai. Masters in geotechnical engineering from Virginia Tech and Ph.D. in underground construction and tunneling from Colorado School of Mines.

T&UC: How long have you been working in tunneling?

Gangrade:  I have six years of tunneling experience that includes my professional experience at AECOM and Arup. During the four years of Ph.D., I had an opportunity to interact and work with tunnel contractors on multiple industry-academia collaborated projects.

T&UC: As a young person in tunneling what is your advice for others who might consider tunneling as a profession?

Gangrade: I typically like the three-prong approach on advising graduate students or even experienced professionals considering tunneling as a profession.

  1. Build your network: Attend conferences, events, webinars and establish connections with professionals in the field. Identify mentors who can provide guidance and support as you navigate your career in tunneling.
  2. Stay committed to learning: Tunneling is a dynamic and evolving field that requires a bit of commitment toward continued professional development. Stay curious, be willing to learn, and be open to new ideas/approaches.
  3. Consider specialization and practical experience: Tunneling focused courses or certifications are valuable in keeping up to date with the state-of-the-art practices. Project site visits and practical experience on a tunnel project site are invaluable and must be pursued.

T&UC: What is your advice/suggestions to address current workforce challenges?

Gangrade: I believe there needs to be action on increasing the awareness of tunneling careers among students and young professionals through industry events, university outreach programs, internship programs that highlight opportunities for growth and innovation. Retention of talent is an issue or will be an issue in the near future. Recognizing and rewarding the talent through performance based incentives, professional growth opportunities, and pathway for a successful career are key toward retention.Streamlining external factors such as immigration, licensing process, and providing lucrative compensation and benefits packages will play a strong role in attracting and retaining talent.

T&UC: What kind of opportunities exist in the industry for young professionals?

Gangrade:  In my opinion, tunneling as a profession is a dynamic and a rewarding career path that offers a   range of opportunities for young professionals. The largest set of opportunities includes being involved on the engineering design and construction of the tunnel project. Young professionals with backgrounds in civil engineering, geotechnical engineering, engineering geology, mechanical engineering, structural engineering, geological engineering can pursue opportunities in tunnel design and construction. This typically includes engineering roles with design consultants and contractors, equipment manufacturers, suppliers, and research and development roles with TBM manufacturers.

Young professionals can also pursue roles in construction management, project management, planning, scheduling, estimating, execution of projects, managing subcontractors and subconsultants. These opportunities may be exclusive or be a part of the engineering design and construction.

With growing awareness about sustainability, young professionals can pursue opportunities related to environmental engineering, sustainable development, and green infrastructure.

Photo: NAT 2022 Chair Lonnie Jacobs greets and Bill Edgerton at the 2022 NAT Awards Program. Edgerton was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.

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