What did you want to be when you were at school?
I hated school. I am very practical and hands on in my learning. I wanted to do something more action based than sat in a classroom and my first ambition was to be a soldier. As I progressed through school, I became more focussed on creative and artistic skills and wanted to train as a special effects makeup artist.
What did you study?
The training course for special effects makeup is very difficult to get into and very expensive, so I looked for another path and studied theology instead! So I have a very different background in education than you would expect – which just shows that no matter your background, if you find you are interested in engineering or manufacturing, you should not let your previous experience hold you back from trying something new.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
It is a physical, hands-on, action-led role – which is suits me very well. I enjoy the practicality of the work, investigating issues and problem solving.
What do you do in a typical day?
I am currently training with BNL’s Senior Development Engineer. You will usually find me putting injection mould tools onto the machines, setting the machines and programming the controlled settings and setting up any additional equipment for each product’s manufacture. The tools can weigh up to a tonne and a half and we use lifting equipment to load the tools into the machines, so some of my tasks will be operation of these cranes and hoists, plus learning and following the health and safety procedures that go with them. The tools will at some point need changing so we unload tools and reload new ones then reset them all again. There can be issues, and we are constantly trying to improve efficiency, so there are opportunities for investigation, problem solving and innovation all the time, which means no day is exactly the same.
What is your best or most enjoyable moment in your career?
My favourite moments in my career are where I have been able to pick up a skill quickly and make a difference. In the past, I worked in a bakery environment and whilst supervising the team I had an opportunity to make some changes that made a difference to our performance. My previous roles in BNL have been in Auto Assembly and Quality and in these, also, I relished the chance to move quickly through the basics to a point where I could look at processes and procedures and see how we can improve.
Who inspires you?
My partner – I admire his drive and ambition. The fact he strives to achieve and be the best he can be, which makes me want to drive myself forward to better things too.
What are your career aspirations?
Eventually, I see myself in charge of operations and production at a facility. In and out of work, I see things and I think ‘I would do that differently’ and so I would like to have the chance to put all the plans and improvements I come up with into action.
How do you think we can encourage women into STEM/Engineering/Manufacturing careers?
I think by breaking down perceptions and stereotypes. When I wanted to be a soldier as a child, I had already been conditioned to think it was not a job for a woman and asked my mother why I had not been born a boy! All these years later, starting training as a tool setter, many people believed I would be at a disadvantage because of the physicality of the job. I realise that many people see injection moulding as manoeuvring big lumps of metal and heavy machinery. This may well be the case in some instances, but we are not expected to lift tools ourselves! We use lifting equipment that is made for the job. Health & Safety legislation means there is so much assistance available to operators in this area with equipment and automation that this should not be a barrier to women joining any engineering or manufacturing role.
Senior management in STEM and manufacturing industries need to be involved in breaking these perceptions apart and encouraging more women into the industry, plus encouraging existing employees to take on these roles, if they are interested in moving from a less technical role. When I was asked by our Operations Manager, if I had considered going for the Tool Setter vacancy, I said I thought they were looking for a man to fill the role and was very quickly told never to think that as it will never be the case. He strongly encouraged me to apply and I am happy he did!
Any advice for young women, or anyone, wanting to start a STEM/Engineering/Manufacturing career?
Just go for it. You do not know what you can do until you try. I have surprised myself at how much I have taken to all these roles and you can surprise yourself too. Do not let other general perceptions of a role stop you from trying, as many people do not understand exactly what the role entails, or that things like physical strength do not necessarily exclude you from doing a job in manufacturing or engineering.