On Tuesday 23rd June, it’s International Women in Engineering Day. Launched back in 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), the day has grown enormously over the past few years. To celebrate, we caught up with four of our female engineers ahead of the day, to learn how they got into the civil engineering profession.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
Anna Preston, Development Team Leader: To be honest, when I was younger, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I did love maths and science and taking things apart to understand how they worked – wrecking everything in my Mum and Dad’s house! At school they tried to force me down the stereotypical job routes for women, such as banking and secretarial work, but there was no way I could sit still at a desk all day… or wear a blouse. So, I ended up doing a careers test and all the jobs that came out of it were to do with engineering – and I knew that would work for me! I picked civil engineering as a speciality, as it looked the most diverse and something that could positively help change the environment and world that we live in.
Chloe Jones, Engineering Technician: Initially, I was looking into architecture. I remember seeing the RIBA Sterling Awards programme when I was about 16 and the Gherkin was on it. Although I really liked the aesthetics of the building, I was more interested in how they designed the windows so that it ventilated itself. At that point, I realised I wanted to study engineering at college. After that, I thought I would still go down the architectural route, but again when people were thinking about the designs of the buildings, I was thinking of how it could actually work and stand up. So, I stuck with the engineering route and I love it!
Albina Jevsejeva, Senior Engineer: My route was quite similar to Chloe’s. I was interested in architecture as a teenager, but I was more interested in the ‘why’s and ‘how’s of a building. And rather than buildings, I was more intrigued by structures. That’s why I decided to study civil and structural engineering.
Nikki Smith, Regional Engineering Manager – South East: My earliest memory goes back to a physics lesson at school, when we were learning about forces. I just remember really enjoying learning about it, so I think that’s where it all started for me.
What route did you take to become an engineer and why?
Nikki: To be honest, I wasn’t that good at school – I probably didn’t work as hard as I should have done! So, I did a BTEC in construction, which then got me into university to do a degree in civil engineering. I then joined Mabey Hire as soon as I graduated, in 1994, and have been here ever since.
Anna: My route was quite boring! I took the normal academic route by doing A Levels, then an HND before doing a degree in civil engineering. I couldn’t see any other way to get into engineering back then, as there weren’t many opportunities available in the 80s to get into the industry, unless you had qualifications.
Albina: I also went to university to study engineering. After graduation, I then went to work at Amey in the railway sector for three years, before the Mabey Hire opportunity popped up. I hadn’t heard of temporary works before, so I did some reading up on it and thought it sounded fun…and four years down the line, I’m still here!
Chloe: Unlike the other three, I am yet to study my degree. I started with Mabey Hire on the hire desk as maternity cover, but thanks to my previous qualifications, I ended up working my way into the engineering department. I’m working as an engineering technician at the moment, but I am looking to start my degree next year, which Mabey Hire is supporting me with.
What do your roles entail?
Nikki: I look after all of the engineering schemes [in my region], making sure that I am involved in checking and mentoring the team, to ensure everything is done on time.
Anna: I’m the Development Team Leader at Mabey Hire, so I’m responsible for developing new products for the hire fleet and making improvements to existing solutions. I’m also the one who needs to make sure that all of the technical data is up to date and correct for each product, while also supporting the engineering teams.
Chloe: I am more involved in drawing the designs at the moment, using CAD and REVIT, and learning about BIM to produce the drawings for our clients. I have discussions with our customers about what they need and then I take their designs to draw a temporary works scheme for them, making sure that all of the adequate notes are on there, along with the equipment lists.
Albina: I don’t have a typical day – every day is different! I can jump from one project in the morning to a completely different project in the afternoon, seeing what our customers need and making sure that what they want is buildable.
What has been your best experience working as an engineer?
Nikki: I’m proud of quite a lot of projects, but the one that sticks out the most was when I first started as an assistant engineer; I helped my boss to find a solution for a project… and it worked! I was really proud that I was able to provide some input into a project at such an early stage of my career.
Anna: I’m always proud when I find a novel solution to a problem. Sometimes it’s the small things that ‘wow’ me more than the big things. I’m also always pleased when I test a new product or solution, and the test results mirror what I had calculated.
Chloe: Although I haven’t been involved in the design side of the business long, I do remember one project where a client was completely new to propping and as such, they needed a lot of support and guidance – and I was proud that I could help them. I enjoyed talking them through the project, as it gave me confidence that I knew what I was talking about. The client also invited me to site, so seeing what I had designed in reality was brilliant.
What has been your most challenging experience working as an engineer?
Albina: One brief, which we received from a client, asked if we could design a solution that could not only be placed over an excavation, but could also take the load of an aeroplane. It was very hard to find a solution at first, but after various conversations with my colleagues we were able to design a solution. We then built a test rig and used hydraulic jacks to mimic the tyres of a plane…and it worked!
Nikki: I worked on one big project that was very challenging; it had high loads and out of balance forces, which required a complete solution through design to supply and installation. While there were a few issues on that project, we worked through it day and night, guiding our client, which at the time, was completely new to me!
Anna: I like a challenge – especially when Nikki (or any of the team) comes to me with a problem and I come up with a solution. However, I think the most challenging experience for me is on the rare occasions when I have visited sites and noticed that the way they are executing things is incorrect and unsafe, so I have to ‘press the red button’ and put everything on hold. Telling people to stop working is hard at the best of times but being a woman can sometimes make it more difficult.
What do you like about working at Mabey Hire and how do they support you?
Albina: I really like how different each day is at Mabey Hire. I feel like I am in a constant state of adrenaline, which I love. My days need to be interesting, as I have a short attention span, so I really enjoy how varied my role is and I especially like it when an unusual project lands on my desk – it’s fun!
Anna: I love the variety of work like Albina, too. In fact, Albina is the one who challenges me the most at work, which is great as I love problem solving. My days are so diverse, as I can start in the morning working on one project and then I could be doing something completely different in the afternoon. I also like the freedom it provides; it’s not just a desk job. In terms of support, Mabey Hire has pushed me to become chartered and they’ve also let me become a STEM ambassador, which I really enjoy.
Chloe: For me, it’s my colleagues! I feel like you are part of a big family. Although I’ve only just started working within the engineering team, I already feel like I’m building so many relationships. It’s a really safe and supportive environment – and no question is silly! Mabey Hire has supported me throughout my entire journey, from providing me with opportunities to do professional REVIT qualifications and now helping me through my degree. But that’s not all, when I returned back to work after having my little girl, the company wholly supported me. They understood that I was committed and ensured that they provided me with the opportunities I need to progress with my career.
Nikki: I love working at Mabey Hire as every day is different and you’re always learning something new! Similar to Chloe, the company also supported me when I went part time to look after my two children, and they have constantly been there to help and guide me throughout my career.
In the second blog in the series, we’ll speak to Nikki, Anna, Albina and Chloe about their thoughts on women in engineering and what should be done to encourage more women to join the industry. Read it here.