Inspiring careers for women in engineering

Donna Green, Curriculum Lead, Technical Isle of Wight College and CECAMM
Donna Green, Curriculum Lead, Technical Isle of Wight College and CECAMM

With International Women’s Day in the news Composites in Manufacturing is interviewing women who have decided to make engineering their career. In this Q&A we hear from Donna Green, Curriculum Lead, Technical, at the Isle of Wight College of further education, including the Centre of Excellence for Composites, Advanced Manufacturing & Marine (CECAMM), about her experience as a CAD engineer and subsequent time at the college teaching and encouraging people into the profession.

Q) Firstly, can you say a bit about your background/experience of the engineering sector?

I always wanted to be an engineer, but it was not until my mid-30s that I decided to re-train as a computer-aided designer at an electrical engineering company. I worked and studied for eight years for my higher diploma, when the Head of the Engineering Department at the College asked me if I had ever thought about FE teaching. I have now moved to FE teaching full-time. What was great about the move was being able to use my real-world engineering experience and start teaching without previous teaching qualifications, so it was very flexible and I was able to learn on the job. 

Q) What first inspired you to become an engineer and what age were you when you first discovered an interest?

When I was younger, I always thought that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but as I reflect now as an adult, I did know.  My skills were always routed in the creative and logical topics, I was good at problem solving.  School subjects around Design Technology and Technical drawing were favourites of mine. The boys in my class at school were headed off to apprenticeships at a large local engineering company, whereas I didn’t feel like I was presented with the same opportunities. So, I fell into a range of different administrative jobs until I finally, and by accident, secured one at a local electronics firm where I became really interested in CAD design. An opportunity arose to work as an administrator and shortly afterwards a further opportunity to train as a design engineer, so I jumped at the chance. Now, in my role as an FE teacher I can inspire other women to take those opportunities within the engineering industry, that perhaps were not so readily available when I started.

Q) Did you experience much resistance to your career choice when you first began training/entering the profession? How did you counteract that?

 Despite my experience in my own job, there hasn’t been as much representation of women in the industry as there have men, and trade magazines have reported that many left the industry as they felt that they were being overlooked. It doesn’t need to be that way and in all my years of teaching things are greatly improving year on year. That’s why I’m so passionate about being a further education teacher in the engineering sector, because I can showcase how it’s a great career option for everyone, including women, and inspire the next generation. I use every opportunity I can to talk to groups or schools of people of all ages to dispel the myth that its only jobs for the boys.

Q) What main change would you like to see so that engineering can broaden its appeal, specifically for young women, but also young people in general? Why should they make the choice of engineering as a career?

Being an FE teacher gives me a platform to get out to schools and broaden the concept of an engineering career. Whilst we have many women now signing up to learn how to do welding or machining, it’s not always about those skills.  We teach students about design, project management, material structures to name but a few, that could lead to a career in designing make up boxes, prosthetic limbs, equipment for sports, medicine, or sound, film props - the list goes on and on! But I also use my age and experience to inspire rational expectation in young people.

Q) With the development of ever more digitalised, automated, software and smart manufacturing technology, what would you say are the skills needed these days for starting a career in the sector? How has it changed from your earlier days?

Years into my role as an FE teacher, it really is important to keep on top of those developments in your sector so that you can confidently pass the knowledge on to your students. Technology is indeed always changing, for example, it was my CAD speciality and knowledge of how to produce three-dimensional models and transfer them into an engineering technical drawing that secured my role in teaching further education. The use of those drawings and models has evolved greatly from making a part by hand, and now in some case a technical drawing not being required where the three-dimensional model can be used to circumnavigate conventional programming.

Q) What can we do to improve the status of engineering as a profession?

Part of my role as a further education engineering teacher is to showcase how incredible an industry it is to work in. By having more passionate teachers passing down their skill to the next generation, we’ll be able to spark interest in the sector in more people, ultimately helping to improve the status of engineering as a profession. I think engineering is quite highly regarded here too. There is also that urban myth about the fact that all the really good engineers go and work abroad, that really isn’t the case, amazing engineering happens here in the UK every day, it just isn’t in the limelight. My aim as an FE teacher is to help mould this continuing pipeline of talent in British engineering. Perhaps that is the answer, better marketing/celebration of our country’s engineering achievements.

Q) Should more be done at primary school age to inspire children about engineering and STEM subjects in general?

The primary school age is an important time to get children thinking about engineering and STEM subjects, but it is important that people learn about and are exposed to these roles throughout their lives. Teaching adults in further education as I do, it is so fulfilling to see students understanding the different facets of engineering and seeing that proverbial penny drop as they start to get a grasp on a tricky topic.

Q) As a further education teacher, what would you say to inspire your students about their future in engineering/manufacturing? How do you see its future?

There is always room for growth and you never have to stop learning. As an adult and as a teacher in FE, I have a fresh perspective on seeing and seizing opportunities available, which I encourage my students to see as well. So many of my students have inspired me, seeing how they want to push themselves further than they would have thought. Recently I taught a young woman for seven years and it was a privilege to see her graduate securing an apprenticeship up to Higher National Diploma. I am also so proud to get to see more women entering the field.

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