Julie Brierley joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1990 as an avionics mechanic and spent the best part of ten years in the role before retiring from service. She did various jobs after leaving the RAF, including working in a pathology lab as a market researcher.
Although Brierley didn’t feel she had the confidence to move up the ladder in the military, after leaving the services she decided to go back into education and did a BSc through The Open University. This was a turning point in her career.
With her enjoyment of teaching, Brierley began working with schoolchildren who needed additional support. So when the position for access and learning assistant at the RAF Museum Cosford came up, she applied. From part time assistant she has progressed to full time learning officer. She now manages the department and three other members of the team.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
The challenge of engaging with a variety of young people and families who need a wide range of different educational input, using the amazing collection the RAF Museum has. No two days are the same and being able to inspire young people into STEM is very satisfying.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
I always wanted to be a tank driver like my dad but it wasn’t allowed at the time so the RAF offered me a career as an avionics mechanic; I scored well in the engineering aspect of the entrance test. I also wanted to do something different and enjoyed the practical elements of engineering, but I had no idea that I had a gift in electronics until my college tutor gave us kits to build and I just seemed to be able to put them together. I ended up showing him how they worked!
What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in getting to where you are?
Often being the only female on a squadron made it difficult to progress. Indeed, some areas of the RAF had very few females as part of the workforce. However, a small group of women started to help drive change by going on detachment to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey in 1991. This was unprecedented because of the challenges of accommodation and facilities. From this point on I was pretty much allowed to carry out the same duties as my male counterparts.
It was a difficult journey and I am very pleased to see that things have changed dramatically now. The RAF has some amazing female role models, at all levels and in all corners of the world, and the recent news that women can now do any role in the military is fantastic.
What has been a career high or most memorable work moment?
There a two moments that resonate with me. The first is receiving my Air Operations Iraq medal. The second, but by no means the least important, is when an old student sent me a message to say how well he was doing and thanking me for my support and the work I’d done with him.
In terms of your career, who has been your role model?
That’s a difficult one as there were not many females in the role, which is what drives me. If I’d had a role model or a mentor then I’d probably have found myself on a slightly different journey. But the RAF Museum and the RAF in general has some great role models. I also know that NT CADCAM, who supply my technical software, are champions of women in engineering and the RAF Museum too, which is motivating.
What is your view on diversity in the engineering and design workforce?
I think people’s perceptions and attitudes are changing for the better. We’re realising that diversity is key in all areas of the workforce. People can bring a wide variety of experience and skills and we should really celebrate that.
What technology or design tools do you use day-to-day in your job?
We use everything from standard computers to iPads and we’re now up skilling so we can inspire young people and families to use technology with confidence. We work with partners and other companies to promote the use of coding, virtual reality and design tools.
With the advantage of hindsight, what career advice would you give to your younger self?
To do my A-levels before deciding on anything. Also, to ask more questions of industry experts. Giving young people access to experts in their chosen field is so valuable. It’s important to be well informed.
If you were hosting a dinner party who would you invite and why?
Firstly, my family. Secondly, Amy Johnson [a pioneering British aviator born in 1903 who was the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia] as I’d love to know how she felt about her role. And, thirdly, the man with the most amazing imagination: Walt Disney. Aviation and Disney are my two passions!
Julie Brierley access and learning manager at RAF Museum Cosford