With our hundredth anniversary being this year, we have been in conversation with some of our Professional Members to learn about their engineering careers and their fond memories of The Welding Institute and TWI Ltd.
In and amongst these we have spoken to EUR ING John Kell MBE CEng FWeldI. With his personal ties to TWI and The Welding Institute that are traced back to when he was a young child, he recounted how he spent time living in our very own Abington Hall at just four years old to working with The Institute now!
His past with the Institute began when his mother undertook a housekeeping role at the organisation’s newly built conference centre in 1968. To provide student accommodation to those attending welder and NDT training courses at TWI, the conference centre was built and subsequent upgrades to Abington Hall were made. Abington Hall also included the British welding Sports and Social Club facilities, including a bar, darts boards, full-sized snooker table and a golf putting green.
John recalls in his time living in the flat on the top floor of Abington Hall, of playing games around the grounds of the estate with his older brother. Having a grandfather who was a marine engineer and served in The London Scottish Regiment as well as being injured during the infamous first day of the Somme during World War Once, as well as a father who spent over two decades as a career soldier within the Royal Tank Regiment and Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, John had been exposed to engineering his whole life and consequently also took an interest in the military.
The links between Abington Hall, the military and The Welding Institute are traced back to 1946, with the end of the Second World War seeing the army, who had taken use of the Hall during the war, vacate the grounds. The forerunner to the current TWI, The British Welding Research Association having bought the Hall for £3850. Under the guidance of Dr Richard Weck, the initial fatigue research activities on the site took place in a former army hut.
John and his family knew Dr Weck well, with him living nearby to South Lodge. The former Director General of BWRA and The Welding Institute even provided John with books for his university studies. John went on to study a degree in manufacturing systems engineering at Portsmouth and worked as a design engineer for Lufthansa in Hamburg as part of his sandwich degree course.
At this point, John had amassed engineering experience close to home after being an apprentice at TWI in 1980 under training supervisor Ray Hood’s direction. After having originally sought to work in the technical drawing office, John joined the electron beam (EB) department after spending time in the machine shop; where he operated an EB welding machine under the supervision of Tibor Szluha. This was all while studying part-time and taking training day-releases, where he earnt his ONC and HNC qualifications.
At the time, Dr Alan Sanderson was TWI’s head of EB – he encouraged John to continue his academic career further and so he went back into full time education at Portsmouth University in 1989. After working during the Summer at TWI to earn some extra money whilst studying in 1990 and 1991, he headed back to the EB department at TWI in 1993. Currently, John became a Senior Project Leader working on out-of-vacuum EB and equipment build projects for nuclear waste containment vessels, and offshore pipeline fabrication projects.
During the period between 1999 and 2001, John left TWI and went over to Milwaukee in the USA, working for a Tier 1 automotive company as Senior Advanced Manufacturing Engineer, supporting new joining process development, lean manufacturing process implementation and 3D discrete event simulation and robotic modelling. When he returned to the UK, he ran his newly formed manufacturing consultancy and then later returned to TWI for a further seven years, undertaking the role of business development manager for the automotive and motorsport sector.
His career at TWI amounted to around two decades and comprised of time in the machine shop, the EB department, the manufacturing support group (where he worked on the 3D modelling of production lines and was part of the Welding Engineer Helpdesk), and as a business development lead and manager for TWI’s automotive operations. Having worked across a multitude of sectors, including oil and gas, nuclear, aerospace, automotive and defence, his career at TWI led to travel globally, from South Africa to Japan as well as time spent working out in the North Sea.
As he now works as a principal R&D specialist for the government, John’s ties with The Welding Institute has continued.
Previously the Chairman and a committee member of the Eastern County Welding and Joining Society (1995-2007), John was also on The Welding Institute’s Education Committee, and is now in his second term as a Professional Board member. Having starting at technician grade and progressing on completion of his engineering degree, he became a Professional Member of The Institute during his time at TWI.
His Membership led him to become a Chartered Engineer, which John acknowledges is an important measure of engineering competence, providing endorsement and a level of assurance to employers.
John endorsed that he would readily recommend engineering as a career, professional engineering institution membership and chartered status to others – not only differentiating you amongst peers but also being valuable for securing further professional and personal development, networking with contacts within your industry and can aid in acquiring higher value and rewarding career opportunities. As some employers favour engineers with chartered status, this qualification can offer career and social mobility for young people.
John remains eager to use his expertise and experience to guide and encourage engineering as a career, including as a Major – officer commanding 3 Company Cambridgeshire Army Cadet Force, where he supports promoting STEM.
His extensive and diverse range of experience makes John perfect for supporting and offering advice to any young people who are considering an engineering career. With the ever-changing nature of the industry provoking a move from a hardware to a software-based focus, there is still a need for engineers and technicians, and those employed in design, innovation and research and development.
Looking retrospectively on his career, John shared that he wished he had been more confident in dealing with senior managers when he was first working as a technician, but is also keen to emphasise the value of his apprenticeship.
Having invested time into an apprenticeship as well as studying towards a degree, John recommends the apprenticeship route for those that may not be as favoured towards a degree, as it provides a working comprehension of a role that may be shown in practise at university. This knowledge can become invaluable as you develop your career, potentially up to management, as you will have ‘shop floor’ experience to support your qualifications.
Ultimately, whichever path you choose, it is apparent that engineering has given John career fulfilment and professional recognition, while The Welding Institute has remained a constant throughout his life!
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