International Women in Engineering Day 2017

On 23rd June each year, International Women in Engineering day is celebrated to focus on the great opportunities available for women in the engineering industry. Vital regularly recruits across the UK and actively encourages women into the company, and this year, we have interviewed two of our female engineers to discuss their development and achievements and the opportunities that a career in engineering can bring, in the hope that we can motivate and encourage more women into the industry. 

Senior Design Engineer, Gemma McHugh, (left) has been working at Vital Energi for 8 years and originally joined as a Junior Design Engineer with two years’ prior experience. Hayley Kimberley, Project Manager, (right) has been with Vital Energi for less than a year but has been working in the engineering sector for 11 years. We spoke to both women about their careers and the opportunities they have been given and here is what they had to say.

Why did you choose a career in engineering?

Gemma: Choosing to do engineering in school wasn’t a straightforward or obvious choice for me. I chose engineering because I got satisfaction out of solving problems in Maths but I also liked seeing things come to life and develop through stages of design in Art. I decided that I wanted to build things (like the Lego I played with as a child) for a living so I figured engineering was the career for me. 

Hayley: I have always been creative and enjoyed working with my hands from a young age. I spent 12 years as a service and repair gas safe engineer, which I loved, but decided I could push myself further as I liked solving problems and always loved the idea of running a job as a Project Manager. I went to university at the age of 28, and graduated with a first class degree in Civil and Infrastructure Engineering. 

What is the greatest thing you have achieved in your engineering career so far?

Gemma: For me, it’s been great to start from a junior level and rise up through the ranks over the years whilst becoming a Chartered Engineer. The level I am at now involves leading the design of complex projects for the University of Edinburgh with a close-knit team. I enjoy getting the most out of the relationships I’ve built over the past number of years, working with the electrical, CAD and projects teams to get projects complete. Even though I sometimes feel like I know nothing, I definitely know more than I did 10 years ago! 

Hayley: Being the first female installation engineer in my region with my previous company, my first class degree while working 40-50 hours per week and being asked to be the Project Manager on a £28million renewable scheme. For 3 years, I worked for 7 days a week when I was studying but it is totally worth it now and I’m planning to do my masters in the next couple of years to try and become chartered. I’d also like to do an MBA in business as I’d like to work to becoming Project Director by the time I’m 40. That’s the goal anyway.

What is the most exciting project you have worked on?

Gemma: I am coming to completion of our latest University of Edinburgh project which is a district heating and cooling network for their veterinary campus. There were many challenges on this project including space for plant and the project itself has been quite technically complex.There have been many elements of this project which were new to me and that I’ve learnt throughout the design process. It has proven to me that there is always something new to learn and new ways I can develop throughout my career, but it has been a very interesting project to work on. 

Hayley: The Ram Quarter project that I’m currently on is the most exciting. It brings new challenges every day and there are so many elements that I’m looking after including; district heating, risers, laterals, HIUs, adiabatic dry air coolers, chillers, CHPs, boilers, gas pipe, large distribution mains pipe, BMS, ventilation system. To be 32 and doing all this is amazing. I rise to every challenge and give 110% all the time no matter what pressures are upon me. I have a good team of sub-contractors that help and support me every day to deliver this job to the highest standard, and we have health and safety at the front of everything we do.

What changes do you think could be made in schools to make engineering a more accessible career choice for women?

Gemma: I think there needs to be more awareness in schools of the huge variety of roles that engineers can do by having lots of engagement with industry. In school, (and often in university), I remember not really having any idea what an engineer did as a job in everyday life. It’s usually quite obvious what a traditional female career like a nurse or teacher does but engineers can have so many different roles in many different industries that it can be difficult to understand. This is something that is not just an issue for females. I think there’s also a perception of engineering being too hard, and while it’s not easy, it can be rewarding and it’s definitely a career available to anyone with an interest in problem solving. Young children have such high ambitions and they believe they can do anything, so I think it is really important to manage stereotypes while children are young to ensure girls aren’t scared of the word engineering and see the endless possibilities that this career can bring.

Hayley: I went to an all-girls school and engineering as a career really wasn’t mentioned but I think the best way would be to advertise it in schools. If women from the industry visited and showed what they can achieve, I think it could demonstrate what an amazing and exciting career this can be.
I am still early in my career but I work with women who have worked on the Shard and Westminster and there is even a female crane driver on this site, which is great to see. On site, it is massively male dominated and it can be tough at times as a women, personally I give as good as I get and show what I can do so gender is not an issue. Having a female opinion around the table can help massively, women just think differently and in construction, that is a huge benefit.

Both Gemma and Hayley have touched on how engineering could be more accessible for everyone and have highlighted the various possibilities for women in engineering.

Dave Wilkinson, our Associate Design Director, commented “Despite many initiatives to get women into engineering over the last few years, there is still a lack of female representation across the sector with only approximately 6% of registered professional engineers being women. At Vital we actively encourage and support women into all elements of our business and encourage all our engineers to become chartered if that is the route they are looking to pursue. I am happy to say that we are a well above that 6% figure, with 20% of registered (chartered) within our business, but we will continue to encourage women into these roles and improve upon that figure.”

There are a wide range of opportunities available in all of our departments here at Vital, from design and project engineers to quantity surveyors and roles in the support function including metering & billing, HR and marketing.

The more diverse the industry becomes, the more ideas will be available and these new perspectives will benefit everyone. We think that Gemma and Hayley are great role models to anyone wanting to pursue a career in this industry. They both agree that engineering can be extremely rewarding, and if you’re prepared to work hard then that hard work will pay off.

If you would like to gain more of an insight into the industry, have any questions or are considering a role in engineering, you are welcome to contact

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