Featured People

Michael Black

Name: Michael Black
Job: Environmental Assistant, Northstone (N.I) Ltd. Quarry and Asphalt Division

Subjects taken - Land Use and Environmental Management

Please tell us about your placement year as part of your degree.

I spent much of my second year, preparing for and seeking an industrial placement. I became aware of an opening for an Environmental Assistant with the Northstone (N.I) Ltd. Quarry and Asphalt Division, based at Croaghan Quarry close to Coleraine. I found the job description interesting and varied, and felt I possessed the skills required. My application was successful and I began my placement at the start of June.

A major part of my placement included Environmental Management System (EMS), and Quality Management System (QMS) auditing, of each of the Quarrying locations and contracting squads. I received training in both of the auditing areas, which allowed me to carry out these audits on my own.

I assisted in the development of a new EMS site survey for all the Quarries, I developed further company's procedures detailing finds of archaeological, geological or biological significance. I was responsible for planting programmes and setting targets for their completion. This involved close liaison with; those planting the trees and shrubs, e.g. the Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland (CVNI); location Managers; and other stake holders of interest such as the Health and Safety Manager.

I also was given the responsibility of reporting on environmental performance at the quarterly environmental and quality meetings. I completed the annual environmental review in January and presented its findings to the board, for which I received commendation. Before my departure I was also responsible for giving environmental awareness training to other employees on important issues such as fuel spill containment and waste management.

What did you gain from your placement year?

I improved my ability to relate my academic theory to the work environment, for example; when I gave environmental awareness training on issues such as emergency fuel spill response to quarry and contract workers, I directly applied and translated theory in the work place.

I learnt a lot about self management and ensured I was always developing my skills and employability during my placement; I did this by attending and requesting any extra training available. I attended several environmental conferences and seminars which were run by external bodies such as the one by the Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland (QPANI) on water management issues. Skills, knowledge and resources gained during such events have been invaluable to my work.

I developed my task management skills during placement; I learnt how to plan schedules in advance, set deadlines and then implement my plan using the resources necessary to meet the targeted completion. I oversaw the planting programs at several of the quarries - this involved arranging suitable times for the Conservation Volunteers to come and plant the trees agreed. In all there were just over 3,000 native Irish trees planted.

I have matured a great deal from being out working full time for a year and now have more belief in my own abilities. I confirmed to myself that I had made the correct decision in choosing the Land Use and Environmental Management course, and found that working with environmental management is interesting and dynamic.

As a result of completing a placement year I have gained the City and Guilds Licentiateship (LCGI) Award which I hope will make me more employable as a graduate.

What are your career ambitions?

I brought enthusiasm and a willingness to work hard to my placement, and as a result I have been offered a job at Northstone when I graduate which I am really looking forward to. I feel the job will be a healthy challenge, and is a good stepping stone in gaining more invaluable experience. Working in a medium sized company which is part of a larger worldwide group has many opportunities eg. there may be an option to work elsewhere in the world this is something I would like to experience within five years of graduating. Working in management appeals to me, and I feel I can gain the skills necessary to operate at this level. I think someone with a Land Use and Environmental Management degree skill set and with experience would be capable of running a large water treatment plant; the career areas are limitless.

What is your advice for Queen's students?

Undertaking a placement is essential in developing the skills required to make you employable when you graduate. A placement can help you network and get your foot in the door by helping you secure a job offer for when you graduate. I have developed more during my placement year than during any other period in my life. Push yourself and go after what you want, no-one else is going to do it for you.