"Why I recommend that girls get a career in engineering"
Women Engineers Sophie Russell was one of the only women on her university engineering course. She didn't let that inequality faze her — and now she's a Design Engineer with ScottishPower.
I went to an all-girls' school in Liverpool, was good at maths and chose physics at A-Level. But I was only one of four girls who did — so we had to study the subject at the boys' school next door. I'd been nominated by my physics teacher to go a STEM careers event — and, when I went, I found out about electrical engineering at The University of Liverpool. I applied because I liked the sound of engineering's practical applications.
I applied because I liked the sound of engineering's practical applications.
When I got a conditional offer from university I went to see their engineering department. I was with my mum and dad — and even my mum said: 'Are you sure you want to do this?' That day did put me off, if I'm honest. I started to have real doubts about it.
Luckily, I met a female lecturer from the university at a pre-application day who put my mind at rest. She told me: 'It was the same for me, too. Don't worry about it. Do the course and by the end of your three years you'll have a good degree and loads of male friends who'll be like brothers to you.' And she was right: that's exactly what happened.
Being in the minority
When I began my engineering degree, I wasn't surprised to be in the minority. In terms of new students, I think there were five females. This was not much of a problem though, as at University there was a very inclusive atmosphere and I was treated no differently than anyone else during our lectures. I made a great group of male friends from my course which was unexpected, as I had mostly female friends from school. My time at University and the people I met there has not only made a huge impact on my professional life but also personally for me, as next year I am getting married to one of the boys who made great efforts to make me feel included!
I love coming to work — and that's not something many people can say.
I'm so pleased I did my degree, though, because I can thoroughly recommend a career in engineering. It's not a mundane job. It's an industry where you come to work, do something different every single day and have to constantly innovate. I work in design on housing sites and big city centre developments, so I need commercial awareness because I'm dealing with developers all the time. I also need to be on top of costs because I have to quote for the work I do.
Working in a vital industry
I think it's great to work in an industry which provides vital services. The world wouldn't keep turning without electricity — so what I do is important. It's also an ever-changing, fast-paced industry and it's exciting to be a part of that.
There's a massive skills shortage in the industry. We have a lot of engineers coming to retirement age, but there just aren't the people coming through to replace them. That might sound like a huge pressure: but, actually, it means there's massive opportunity in this sector at the moment. It's a good time to think about a job in engineering. My placement was part of an overall strategy within the business to address the skills shortage currently affecting the whole industry. I spent 6 months with a colleague who was due to retire, learning valuable new skills and experience and have now taken over that person's normal workload We need more women in the industry to help bridge the skills gap. Men and women have different capabilities, so gender balance is beneficial to any team.
Girls could be more aware of the benefits
Not many young women recognise the opportunities this sector can provide. For example, the pay, career progression and training is really good. I've had technical training, communications training and leadership training; plus training in building relationships, decision-making and customer service. I've even had self-development training.
A mechanical engineer is totally different to an electrical engineer, who is totally different to a civil engineer.
We need to bust some myths about the industry. When I was at school and I told people I was going to university to train to be an electrical engineer, they said: 'Why? Are you going to be the person who comes to check the washing machine, then?' That's what people think of when they think of an engineer. But it's not like that at all. My role involves helping manage the network in the Merseyside area, carrying out analysis. There's a massive industry behind me, and no two engineers are the same.
Stereotypes can be destroyed with better information about engineering at school level. I've run a girls' day within our company for pupils who are 14 or under. Fourteen is an important age because in the run-up to GCSEs, girls and boys have an idea of the A-Levels they're going to do. If these don't include maths and science subjects, they can't progress to university to study engineering.
To work in this industry you need to enjoy learning because it's so fast-moving. But the main things you'll need, I think, are a positive outlook, a love of problem-solving — and a desire to change the world.
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