The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards honours the best early career female engineers working in the UK today.
This year sees five female engineers shortlisted, with the winner announced on 10 December.
DEVELOP3D caught up with one of the finalists – Lucy Ackland, a project manager in Renishaw’s Additive Manufacturing Products Division – and posed a few questions regarding her path into engineering, her views on attracting women into the profession and what more can be done.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an engineer?
I was actually 13 years old. I enjoyed maths and science at school and my Design and Technology teacher asked me whether I’d like to go on an engineering experience weekend.
I got to work with companies in teams to do problem solving and it was great. So, from that point I started to look into my options.
You joined Renishaw as an apprentice when you were 16. Do you think this is a good route into engineering?
Absolutely! I think there are definitely pros and cons to each route and young people need to look at the facts to decide which is best for them, but for me, it was the perfect route.
There are so many positives for doing an apprenticeship. One of them being that you to start working from an early age and learn a lot of skills in the company from the ground up, which graduates don’t often get to do because they come in at a later stage. Also, all your college fees are paid which is great.
You can still do a degree being an apprentice because that is what you did isn’t?
Yes, that’s right. It’s a common misconception that you can’t get a degree if you do an apprenticeship, but I did a degree in mechanical and manufacturing engineering from the University of South Wales part time whilst working. I graduated with a first class honours degree in 2012.
A video showcasing the apprentice schemes at Renishaw – engineering and software apprenticeships
When you started your apprenticeship what did you start off doing at Renishaw and how has your role over the past 10 years changed?
The whole of the first year involved off-site training. In the second year I worked in the machine shop operating machinery where I learnt all the hands on skills. Then I joined the Machine Tool Products Division where we were designing and developing measuring equipment for use on machine tools.
Earlier this year I was asked to move up to our Staffordshire facility in Stone, which is our Additive Manufacturing Division, as project manager where I’m helping to design and develop the next generation of metal 3D printing technologies.
What would you say is the biggest barrier to girls considering engineering as a career?
I think it’s the outdated perceptions and breaking through stereotype barriers.
Engineering is absolutely a viable career option for women and we should promote it in that way – both the industry, schools and government. Although schools are getting loads better at promoting engineering and apprenticeships as well as different alternative routes, they need to carry on pushing that for girls.
Also, I think things like the Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards help to promote positive female role models in the industry and will make girls think that if she can do it then maybe so can I.
As you’ve said there, girls do need inspirational role models. Do you do any work with young girls?
I do loads actually and have done so throughout my time at Renishaw.
I have been doing engineering engagement activities such as afternoon engineering clubs and STEM projects at schools, which is really fun.
I volunteer at Young Engineers, a charity which believes that the best way to get young people into engineering is by providing low cost, hands-on activities. Earlier this year I was appointed a board member.
Does Renishaw become involved in promoting engineering to young people too?
Yes, Renishaw is a really forward thinking company in that respect. We host local schools and run activities with young people, which is all good fun.
It would be great to see more companies do this and make it an industry wide initiative because there is really no reason why it can’t be.
Over 600 pupils and students attended Renishaw’s annual Education Days held at its manufacturing site near Cardiff, Wales, on 14 and 15 October 2014.
If you were talking to a young girl about your job, what would you tell her that may encourage her to think differently about engineering as a career?
The things I really love about my job are, firstly working in teams. The teams I get to work with are fantastic and I think that you always get the best ideas, problem solving techniques and solutions to problems by working in a team because you get everyone’s views.
Secondly, and with regards to problem solving, I like being challenged and I think most people do.
Thirdly, being able to work on new and exciting technology. It’s not often that engineering hits the headlines but with 3D printing it definitely has, which has been great. So, being able to be a part of that is something I love.
How do you feel about being shortlisted for the Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards?
Surprised and shocked. I was really shocked to get shortlisted but absolutely honoured that this role is recognised and that I’m up there with some really amazing women who are also finalists doing such a fantastic job. The thought of being able to became an ambassador for young women in engineering is a great thing!