Celebrating Women in Engineering – Apprentice Interview

Article summary: Hear from Megan, Amber and Amy, former PETA apprentices currently working at H&S Aviation, about how they got into the industry, their experiences as women in engineering, and what needs to be done to encourage the future of women in STEM.

Megan Newton - Calibration Maintenance Technician
Apprenticeship: Level 3 Engineering Technician – Technical Support
Completed in March 2023

Amber Smith - Cycle 1 Technical Lead within Strip Department
Apprenticeship: Level 3 Engineering Fitter Apprenticeship
Completed in March 2022

Amy Fisher - Engineering Technician for Test Facilities
Apprenticeship: Level 3 Engineering Technician – Technical Support
Completed September 2023


What does your job involve on a daily basis?

Megan: “We have 4 test cells on this site that test different engines, and we calibrate them every 6 months. It’s a quality control process basically to ensure accuracy, it means we’ve control tested our engines, it’s just really vital because if they’re not calibrated and not correctly in the right tolerances, we will have issues with engines and put them at risk of being damaged. We also maintain them so if there’s anything that goes down we have to fix it, anything from an engine harness being redone, to building test stands, to just changing a light and doing a bit of rewiring, it’s quite a broad spectrum of things that we do. We also have a new project at the moment, the T56 Project, which is building a new test cell over Fleetlands, and myself and Amy will be involved, we’ll take on components of the test cell that then we will have to manufacture and put together.”

Amber: “I work in the GE section, my job role at the moment is the Cycle 1, technical lead for our strip department so my job role is I oversee day-to-day responsibilities, I maintain a small team of 7, make sure everyone’s got their relevant jobs, check induction slots for engines. We do the inventories and borescopes for these engines, so when they come into our shop we check their overall health if you will, and then we put a camera through the centre, we’re diagnosing issues so the customers will send them in for issues, and we try and diagnose that fault, and then we progress with strips on certain models of those engines as well.”

Amy: “It changes quite a lot day-to-day, it covers quite a broad spectrum of things, but you can narrow it down to maintenance, calibration and repair development, so really investigating our systems when things go wrong, keeping them up to spec, and ensuring we’ve got functionality for day-to-day production.”

So what led you to get into engineering?

Megan: “I was always really good at maths and science, I went to college to do my A-levels and wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do uni, I took a year out and I just started thinking maybe an apprenticeship is the option. I started having a look around and engineering seemed to fit my strengths within the academic world. I’ve always played around with my car and stuff like that, had to do stuff around the house, worked a lot on things with my grandad, it just seemed like a normal kind of progression into an engineering role, and then I secured my apprenticeship here.”

Amber: “So from a young age when I used to do DT at school, I always had sort of quite a natural knack for understanding mechanics. My stepdad is really into his bikes and his cars and things like that and it was something that we bonded over quite well, so we used to sit in the garage in summers and we used to build bikes together, BMXs, he’d teach me how to repair cars, and my grandad actually used to work at H&S. During my college we had to do work experience, so I said ‘Oh ok I want to give that a go’ and I did the week’s work experience here and I loved it from day 1. I’ve got quite a natural knack for aviation anyway. I’ve always liked planes so I sort of put 2 and 2 together, and I always wanted to go down the apprenticeship route because I’m not great at theory, I can’t sit in a classroom or a lecture and be spoken at I don’t engage well with that, I learn through my hands and obviously through the help from my dad teaching me the basics to my grandad showing me the aviation route it sort of merged quite nicely in the middle.”

Amy: “It wasn’t really like a straight cut path for me, but I had always been interested in science at school and I really enjoyed maths. I had a real satisfaction in having a problem and getting to a solution and engineering and a STEM subject seemed to be the most logical route to answer that. I think I found my passion for maths and science during secondary school, I had some really good teachers and I was really fortunate in that I was quite close to an engineering college, so the opportunity was there, and I thought I’d grab it and see what happens.

“So I went to the engineering college, I did a course in aeronautical engineering, and as part of that course we did work experience, which I did at H&S Aviation, and that’s where my exposure to the engineering working environment sort of started and got my attention I suppose.”

How has your experience been as a woman in engineering?

Megan: “Being a woman in engineering isn’t easy, I wouldn’t sugar coat it for anyone, it’s definitely changing, the more women that we’re getting in is definitely making the environment a better place. Once you find your section in a good company and environment to be in, it is an amazing place to thrive, and people will support you and push you, but there are still stereotypes within the industry, there are attitudes like there are in life in general towards women which make things a challenge, but it definitely is changing and becoming a better place to work.”

Amber: “It’s been good, I think some people want you to feel like you’ve had a bad experience because they’re not sure how to reciprocate that but I think there’s other people that may think they’re intimidated by you because obviously we’re younger, most of the females here are younger, but we make strides like we can walk around the business and people will go ‘Oh, Amber’s over there, you know, she can give us a hand,’ they know your name like that and I think that in recent times is getting so much better. We are opening our door, we’ve had so many new starters of women coming in and they are taking everything in their stride and I think it’s brilliant, it’s really, really good to see.

Amy: “It’s been interesting, and I would definitely say eye opening, it’s not a bad experience at all, it’s a great way to start your working career I think, it’s an interesting industry. It’s challenging, you know, there’s so many opportunities, you can go anywhere, you can do anything, and people generally are really supportive of you, people are so keen for more women to get involved in this industry that they’re happy to help, so yeah I’ve found it a good experience on the whole, interesting and eye opening but on the whole good.”

Any challenges? How have you managed to overcome them?

Megan: “I’ve learnt to just not take anything personally, people will have these assumptions about you already, if you’re unable to carry out a job, do a certain task and I’ve just learnt to prove people wrong to be honest that’s the best way to do it, but just not take what they say personally. A lot of people we work with are from a different generation, they’ve been raised differently, so I just try not to take it personally; and there are policies and procedures in place in every company that do protect their employees, so if you need help and support, you can always reach out.

“I think it’s like in any career or job, once people know what you’re capable of and you’re a hard worker, they do kind of leave you to it and then they will come to you for things, I think there is a bit more of a jump to prove yourself compared to our male colleagues who are our age, just because they don’t have those prejudice assumptions about them, but I do thing that once you show your worth and show what you’re capable of, people do start to change their views and opinions.”

Amber: “You feel like you have to work harder than most just to be met with the same expectations. Sometimes you get underestimated, so when I was at college I was in a group of solely boys, I was the only female in there, and people treat you slightly differently, sometimes the older instructors would treat you more like a daughter, they’ll be a bit softer on you, some want to be a bit tougher on you because you stand out. I think sometimes they just automatically think ‘Oh you’re not going to cope, you’ll give out in 3 weeks because you can’t cope with the rest of the lads or whatever then you’ll give up,’ but obviously if you overcome that and you start getting on with the bits you can and you become top of the class they’re like ‘Oh wow, oh,’ and they’re almost sort of surprised by that. I just think some people are still set in the older ways, but I think in recent years it’s even better and now so many people promote it in such a positive manner.”

Amy: “I wouldn’t say challenges, maybe more frustrations, even something like having the correct PPE or uniform like our uniform is made to measure for men, and there’s obviously that difference in the male and female biology. It’s an industry that’s still made for men and we need more women in it to sort of stamp our feet a bit and go ‘We’re here, so make room for us’. You get your old timers who aren’t entirely convinced you should be here but on the whole everyone’s keen to get more women into the workplace.”

What are your future aspirations?

Megan: “I’m doing my HNC at the moment, then my plan is to do my HND which will be where I specialise, I’m not sure in what yet, I’m just doing my HNC in general engineering, then I could specialise mechanically or electrically, and then if it’s there I’d like to maybe do a top up degree, that’s the educational path more I’m on at the moment, and then that will develop me alongside working in the workplace.”

Amber: “I’m a technical lead at the moment, which is almost a development role, so I’m a mixture between just being a shop floor technician to then eventually I want to migrate up to our engineers, so I want to be a technical support. At the moment I’m also field support so I go out in the world and I fix on wing as well and I’d like to develop that a bit more and use that to become more of a stable engineer.”

Amy: “I’m really keen to develop my knowledge so I’m also studying a general engineering HNC, which I would like to go onto HND afterwards, and I would just like to generally develop my engineering knowledge and go to work and know that I have made an impact each day, I think that’s where I want to get to the point where I can confidently say ‘That’s what I’m doing every day.’”

What can we do to help more women get into engineering?

Megan: “I think it needs to start when kids are younger at school, I think – when I was at school anyway it wasn’t ever really considered an option that you could go into, there weren’t these talks, you aren’t aware that you can work in the industry and I think as a society we just have these stereotypes of jobs of where people belong which are completely false, I think going round schools at primary age and secondary, talking to girls, encouraging them, showing them what we do, showing them that we look like them and we represent, you know, women, and they can do it too, hopefully encourage them a bit more.”

Amber: “I think definitely more exposure at open days, possibly even school talks when people go in at assembly time and do like a demonstration or something, just more visibility of saying ‘We’re this big company, we’ve got all this future aspiration we want to develop, but here’s our team, we do employ women, here’s what they’ve done,’ show some achievements and just say similar to what Megan said, we can do it, we’ve proven we can do it, and we’ll continue to keep doing so, and you can as well.”

Amy: “100% exposure at a younger age, I remember at school we’d have all the little science fayres and I loved it and they just didn’t come around very often, so I think you need to let young girls know that this is an option for them from a very young age, you need to encourage that and continue to let them know that it’s there, that it’s something they can do but also I think build their confidence up because I think sometimes where it is still quite a male dominated industry some people are like ‘I don’t know if I’ve got the confidence to go into it,’ I think we need to encourage young women to go ‘Actually yeah I can do that.’”

Watch the interview clips with Megan, Amber and Amy on our YouTube channel.