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Nick Swainston – My career in Acoustics

24 Oct 23

Finding success starting as an apprentice and building skills and knowledge while working

Nick Swainston

Role at Cahill Design Consultants


Experience working in Acoustics:

25+ Years

Top Tip for someone new to the industry:

Take every opportunity that comes your way – don’t turn anything down, even though you might not feel confident sometimes. Every situation you put yourself in is useful and will often open doors in your career that you did not know existed.

Nick’s Acoustic Journey

After taking part in a TVEI scheme (technical vocational education initiative) at secondary school at 14-16 years old. I decided I wanted to work as an engineer, following the interests of my dad. But I decided not to go down the A-level university route. I left school at 16 and went to work at Woods Air Movement on a 4-year mechanical engineering apprenticeship.

The first 10 months were based in the training centre, learning mechanical engineering skills which stay with me even now. After that initial introduction, I completed a rotation of 3-month job stints around the factory in many areas including: contracts, product engineering, electrical design, quality assurance, industrial engineering, and service and repair. This tour of the company included a full final year in the aerodynamic and acoustic product development laboratory.

After my apprenticeship

After the 4-year apprenticeship, I was offered a full-time job as a draftsman in the air handling division, designing air handling units. This was not my first choice of job role but, I developed another useful set of skills. After 18 months or so, I was recalled to the development laboratory. As part of this role I completed my IOA acoustics diploma on day release at the Colchester Institute. I worked in the development laboratory for nearly 5 years, measuring noise and vibration of air movement products, helping to develop the next range of tunnel ventilation products, and solving noise and vibration related problems on sites around the country.

Following a health-related issue, I had to stop working with hand tools. I moved to a more desk-based role, designing the noise control packages for ventilation systems. Alongside this, I attended London South Bank University and studied an MSc course in environmental acoustics and noise control. Again on day release. I always wanted to build on my skills and knowledge while working.

Utilising my skills

Once I had completed the course in London, I wanted to use the information and knowledge I had acquired. I moved to Sound Research Laboratories (SRL) an acoustic Consultancy practise and progressed through the company. This role required the development of a new set of skills. Working on construction projects with architects, engineers, and construction managers to develop acoustically compliant buildings. During this time, I worked on many different types of projects. Each one provided a learning experience. Technical knowledge was maintained by completing CPD courses to keep up to date with changing modern methods. 

Projects where I worked individually in Korea, and Dubai, made me realise I was under-utilised and ready to take another step in my career. I moved to another acoustic consultancy to help in a senior role. After being furloughed in the pandemic, good timing saw me join CDC as Principal Acoustic Consultant, and I am now an Associate.

Unique Experience

Time spent in Korea and the Middle East whilst at SRL. In Korea, I was one of the only English speakers on the project, which added some communication challenges. This was for a high-end heavy industries client who were constructing floating oil rig accommodation blocks in the deep harbour port of Okpo. I also ran SRL’s Dubai Opera House project, a 2.5-year project where I led the acoustic design of the M&E installation. Visiting Dubai and communicating with the client’s M&E team on a regular basis to develop a successful solution for the hi specification accommodation.

Best Experience

Standing on the centre spot with all the flood lights on at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. This was at around midnight where we were completing the bowl commissioning tests. I was 1 of only 3 people in the stadium that night – just before the Rugby World Cup started!

Funny Experience

Perhaps more unsettling than funny, but I drew the short straw and had to complete 2, 12-hour overnight shifts as part of a fully manned 48-hour noise survey in the Peak District near Glossop. I heard all sorts of sounds in the night with all the wildlife about. It was quite disturbing at times. I am glad that the days of doing manned night surveys are largely behind us with the modern instrumentation that we now use.

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