For many field service engineers, life on the road is part of the job description, but some take it to the extreme. Joshua Wilkie, who works as a field service engineer at a British water treatment company, has been home no more than nine days in the last six months. Currently working in Gujarat, India, Wilkie shares his tips and tricks for working abroad.
Describe your day job:
My day-to-day job involves providing temporary water treatment services to clients in various industries. That includes operating and monitoring the equipment, performing essential maintenance, and liaising with the client to ensure they get the quality and quantity of water that they need. Most of the time I am working independently in a remote location. It’s a very demanding job, which requires me to drop everything and respond to issues that arise, often at really inconvenient moments, but it is also very rewarding too.
How many days of the year are you on the road?
I’m not really sure. In the last six months I’ve been at my official place of residence (in Scotland) no more than nine days. I travel close to 100 percent of the time with work, and when I get time off, I am often too tired to drive all the way to Scotland from somewhere in England, so I usually spend my downtime abroad or with friends elsewhere in the UK.
Where has your work taken you so far?
Since starting my work as a field service engineer, I’ve worked in England, Sweden, Australia, Myanmar and I’ve been working in India on and off for more than four months. I’ve also done paid internships in Germany and Mongolia. Myanmar was by far the best place I’ve ever worked.
What are the biggest challenges of working on the road as an engineer?
My family always sits around a table together to eat, so mealtimes were my most sociable part of the day. To go from that to usually eating alone was really tough. I was also in a long distance relationship, which disintegrated partly as a result of my unpredictable lifestyle. So it’s a very lonely life at times, but fortunately I’ve gotten quite good at making friends and I’m really fortunate with some of the people I’ve gotten to know.
What luggage and equipment do you bring with you?
For work I usually travel with an Antler Roller Holdall (with rollerblade wheels), which is pretty robust and fits my work boots and uniform, which varies depending on the PPE [personal protective equipment] requirements of the project, my casual clothes, workout clothes and swimwear. I also bring my cameras, work laptop and iPad, which I can’t live without. Sometimes I may also have to take some tools or equipment for work. Once I carried two heavy duty check valves that took up one-third of my baggage allowance! Finally, my hard hat is attached to my laptop backpack using carabiners — something I spotted a couple of other engineers doing in the Singapore airport.
What tips do you have for fellow field service engineers on the road?
Make sure your clothes match. That way you can mix and match so it feels you aren’t wearing the same outfit all the time. Seriously, the novelty of choosing what to wear makes a big difference. Get to know the restaurateurs, hoteliers and bar staff. Once you build rapport with them, they will go out of their way to look after you. Finally, look after your health — physical, mental, whatever. No one else is going to look after it for you.