SARA Underwood is a self-confessed ‘girlie girl’.
“I love shopping, particularly buying shoes,” says the blonde 21-year-old.
It might seem strange then that Sara has chosen engineering as her profession. She works as an apprentice for Rolls-Royce, Barnoldswick, one of just a few women choosing engineering as a career.
She has just received the Mary George award for Apprentices after being a finalist in the Young Woman Engineer of the Year awards.
“It was such a surprise the receive the award,” says Sara, who lives just outside Skipton.
“I never thought I’d even make the finals let alone win an award.” Sara’s decision to start a three-year apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce is even more surprising as her home is more than 300 miles away near Guildford.
“I was really good at maths and science at school and so engineering just made sense,” she explains. “But no one ever talked about apprenticeships or that fact that you might consider leaving school at 16 to take one up. It was just presumed you would do A-levels then go on to university and then get a job.” It was during a gap year after her A-levels that Sara decided that an apprenticeship was for her.
“I was watching a BBC programme about how to build a Jumbo Jet and it was all based at Rolls-Royce. I thought that it looked really interesting.” She applied for an apprenticeship and was successful. So, at the tender age of 19, Sara left her friends and family to move 300 miles to Yorkshire.
“It was tough to start with,” she admits. “I didn’t know anybody and didn’t know the area – it was a big culture shock. I grew up an hour outside of London and used to think we were out in the country, but then I moved here. I love it now and love to bring my friends here.”
Sara took up sailing in her spare time which she says is a really great way to meet people.
As a higher apprentice at Rolls-Royce, Sara spends time working in multiple teams within the manufacturing engineering department.
She works on process, quality and product improvements to help cut time and costs to the business.
She also is a great ambassador not only for women in engineering but for apprenticeships at whole.
“I do spend quite a lot of time going into schools and talking about what I do and about how useful apprenticeships can be. The Government is getting better at promoting apprenticeships, especially since tuition fees for university are now so high.
“I also love talking to the local girls’ school and explaining to them that engineering can be a career choice for them. Girls do really well at maths and science and school, but then they aren’t encouraged to take up engineering at a higher level. There are still only seven per cent of women in the engineering workforce.”
Despite her male-dominated profession, Sara says she has received nothing but support from her male colleagues.
“When I was at college I was the only girl studying product design and the boys wanted to know why I was taking a boys’ subject. But since then I have had nothing but support.”
And Sara has high ambitions.
“I would love to be the first female CEO of Rolls-Royce. My thoughts are if you aim for the moon you still get the stars.”
Awards recognise women’s talents
The YWE awards, now in their 37th year and run by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, recognise the outstanding achievements of female engineers, while highlighting engineering as a worthwhile and exciting career choice for women. Women make up only seven per cent of the engineering workforce so these awards are one of a number of IET initiatives to encourage more women into the industry.