The theme of this week’s International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was #transformthefuture, which is just the kind of motivational message that young women need to hear when considering their future careers.
I was 14 when I had my first real experience of engineering, when I chose it as a specialism with the Sea Cadets. I was fascinated from day one – I could see straight away that the skills I was learning would stand me in good stead for the rest of my life and was blown away by the diversity of engineering roles on offer in the UK and even further afield.
When I told my parents that I was considering a career in engineering, they were sceptical. The idea seemed to have come out of nowhere and they were concerned about the amount of competition for places in the industry, especially for a woman.
My teachers were really impressed with the decision, but there was no-one really driving me on. I was unsuccessful in my first few applications for engineering courses and I must admit it dented my confidence a bit – I would have really benefitted from some extra motivation to keep me on track.
Fast forward seven years and I’m working on a wide range of different projects as an apprentice for train company TransPennine Express (TPE), while studying part-time at one of the most inspirational learning campuses in the country.
I’m also grateful to be in a position where I can share my own experiences with young women and inspire them to explore a career in this fascinating industry. I’ve already met some really inspirational women in this industry, and I feel we all have a role to play in making sure the next generation of female engineers can keep on believing in themselves.
Two years into my apprenticeship, I was accepted onto a four-week placement with Direct Rail Services, which was a fantastic introduction to working in the industry. My abiding memory was meeting managing director Debbie Francis, who took time out of her schedule to come and speak to me personally. Debbie explained her own personal journey; leaving school at 16 and working her way up steadily through the ranks. It was a real eye-opener and made me understand that there are so many ways into the engineering industry, whether that’s through higher education course, apprenticeships or internships.
My own employer, TPE, has been fantastic in encouraging me to visit local colleges and talk about the range of opportunities on offer in rail engineering. I’ve also been given the opportunity to speak at several Women in Rail events, which has been an absolute privilege.
I am fortunate, perhaps, not to have been treated any differently at work because of my gender. There are definitely more men in some departments where I work, but there are just as many women as men in my office. I honestly feel that there’s never been a more exciting time for young people to explore a career in this industry, especially with major projects like high-speed rail on the horizon as well as the introduction of brand-new Nova trains by TPE. With so many technological advances, engineering is by no means a ‘‘dirty job’’ any more and the range of potential roles is increasing all the time.
Technology is also helping me to complete my apprenticeship studies in a way that works best for me. At the National College for High Speed Rail’s Doncaster and Birmingham campuses, I’ve been able to learn on state-of-the-art systems like Virtual Reality headsets, which has made a real difference to me personally, as I’m very much a hands-on person.
In my experience, engineering is all about finding new solutions that help existing systems and operations to evolve. It stands to reason that the industry itself has to be open to equality and transformation from within. The only way that we’ll achieve that is to go out and engage young women, tell them our stories – and then keep the conversation going.
For more about the National College for High Speed Rail, visit www.nchsr.ac.uk