Why more women should consider a career in engineering

Joanna Harris
About the author : Joanna Harris

Senior Programme Manager, Sodexo UK & Ireland

Published on : 11/3/21
  • As a teenager thinking about starting my career, I knew that I didn’t want to work in an office – I was always much more into getting out and doing things. At school it was the maths, physics classes I enjoyed much more than English or Arts.

    At 16, I left school and started a mechanical / electrical maintenance apprenticeship with Mars confectionery. I soon realised what a male-dominated environment this was – at the technical college where we did the training, I was one of only three females in an intake of over 100 apprentices.

    But I really enjoyed the course, and my apprenticeship saw me working in the maintenance department for the Mars factory where I supported the central services like heating and cooling rather than working on the production equipment and that’s how I started my journey into facilities management.

    Facilities management is a great way to apply your engineering skills – it involves maintenance, refurbishment and renovations, meeting health and safety standards, energy efficiency and sustainability but is ultimately about supporting the core business and the occupants. There are lots of different ways to do hands-on problem solving, and no two days are the same.

    Lifelong learning

    My apprenticeship was the beginning of a lifelong approach to learning for me. I started with an ONC, HNC, an undergraduate degree and ended up completing a master’s degree and management training. I’ve never stopped learning, which has helped me progress in my career.

    For me, the apprenticeship route is a no-brainer, and I’ve encouraged every young person I know to do an apprenticeship rather than go to university. With an apprenticeship, you’re being paid to learn new skills all the time and get experience of interacting with people in a working environment in a way that you just don’t get through a university course. And if all goes well, you’ll be guaranteed a job at the end of your apprenticeship.

    I joined Sodexo in November 2020 and as well as working to improve our technical services delivery, I’ve also been able to get involved in the Technical Apprenticeship Programme. I’ve been advising on what the apprentices might need to learn, in addition to the technical skills they’ll learn at college, to enable them to progress. For example, things like writing and interpreting reports and negotiation and interpersonal skills – skills they will definitely need for a career in engineering.

    Engineers are problem-solvers

    I would encourage anyone who has an understanding of maths, physics and chemistry, as well as a natural curiosity about how things work, to seriously consider an engineering career. It’s such an exciting industry – we problem solve, we make things happen and ultimately help keep the country running. Look outside your window and how many buildings do you see? All of them need someone to look after them, so there will always be jobs available to qualified engineers.

    It’s also easy to transfer your skills to other areas of engineering, as well as to other countries – I got a job doing building management systems at a theatre in Sydney during my gap year, which was a much better match for me than fruit picking! 

    And yes, it’s a male-dominated industry, and at times I’ve been subjected to unconscious bias, such as the time I started a new role and one man I was introduced to asked me if I was the new admin person, or the time I was welcomed by a sign for Mr Joe Harris! 

    But I strongly believe that women have so much to add in an engineering environment. We see and approach things differently, and often it’s a way that hasn’t been considered before. I’m proud that I’ve been able to demonstrate this throughout my career, and to create great opportunities which has enabled me to now have a role that helps our apprentices and engineers deliver excellent technical services.

    Find out more about what inspired me to follow an engineering career path as well as more tips for aspiring engineers in this video:

     

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    This article was created by Joanna Harris, Senior Programme Manager, Sodexo UK & Ireland

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