International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) is an international awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focuses attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry.
To celebrate we asked three female employees at Briggs & Forrester to share their experience of the industry. Claire Palmer is a Senior Electrical Design Engineer and is based in our South East Region, Suzy Keast is a Pre-Construction Manager in our South West Region, and Ellen Barkas has just began her career in Engineering and is training to be a Quantity Surveyor.
Question: When did you first decide that you would like to pursue a career in the construction industry?
Claire: Strangely it wasn’t something I planned, I got a job in a drawing office after leaving college and trained in Computer Aided Design (CAD). I moved to Briggs and Forrester and was given the opportunity to train as an engineer and I haven’t looked back since.
Suzy: When I was at school I quite liked maths and design, so thought engineering would be an option. At the time the only information for engineering jobs in the careers library was Civil Engineer, Structural Engineer and Quantity Surveyor. I did work experience with the local council Building Control and a QS. I went to Exeter College and completed a National Diploma in Construction. It was only by fate that I ended up in Building Services, I joined Oscar Faber (Aecom) as a junior engineer and they were starting up a building services department and I was given the option to join them.
Ellen: Ever since I was young I had an interest in architecture and construction, and in later years I realised how vital protecting our environment is to future sustainability. There is a need for additional housing and buildings, and this cannot be achieved without creating an infrastructure to support it in a way that will also preserves the environment for future generations.
Q: When did you start your career with Briggs & Forrester?
Claire: I started 20 years ago in 1998. I left college and worked as a CAD Technician at my old company Seeboard Nene where I stayed for 2 years before joining Briggs & Forrester.
Suzy: I have been at Briggs for 2 years now. I began my career in consultancy, learning how to design mechanical building services before I decided to move into contracting. From here I’ve worked for local and national M&E contractors – working up from Estimator to Design Manager and finally Pre-Construction Manager.
Ellen: I began my apprenticeship with Briggs & Forrester in November 2017. I was Studying a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Engineering. I was fortunate to start my year 12 studies at the new South Devon UTC, and the building was still in the process of being constructed. Whilst I was studying I was asked if I would like to attend the site meetings to help me gain a greater insight into how the build would develop.
Q: What are some of the biggest hurdles you have faced in your career so far?
Claire: I think the biggest hurdles over the years have been the ever changing world of engineering. Standards and guidance are always being updated and there is always new software being introduced to improve efficiency. Currently the BIM revolution has completely changed most services engineers job roles, I think you need to be fairly versatile to survive in engineering.
Suzy: In the beginning it was being listened to – I used to go to meetings with my boss, and the rest of the design team would think I was there to take the minutes! They would ask him the questions, I would answer – and they would look at my boss for confirmation. This wasn’t just because I was a women – it was also because I was young.
Ellen: I am very lucky in that I haven’t face any hurdles so far. I am sure there will a few in the future and I will definitely get over them however big they are, with the support of my mentor Chris Slade.
Q: What’s the number one piece of advice you would give to any girls/women wanting to join the construction industry and become an engineer?
Claire: If you put your mind to it you can do anything! I think that applies to anyone wanting to become an engineer not just women.
Suzy: The industry has changed and evolved in recent years – it's not as much of a male dominated environment anymore. The rewards are good if you have the drive to succeed.
Ellen: If you’re passionate about making a difference, I guarantee there’s a way to do that with engineering.
Q: What does International Women in Engineering Day mean to you?
Claire: Over the years the number of women I encounter on a daily basis has definitely risen and it’s nice to not be the only female around a meeting table. It’s great to see the recognition of women in Engineering and hopefully it will encourage more girls/women to join the industry.
Suzy: It means that there is a shift in attitude in the industry, which has been a long time coming.
Ellen: Raising the profile of all women in engineering and focus attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls/women in this exciting industry. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world think it celebrates how far we have come from 100 years ago since women got the right to vote to now be accepted in to male dominated industries.
Q: This year’s theme is ‘Raising the Bar’. Are there any inspirational female role models that you can think of who have inspired you and are #RaisingTheBar for girls/women in engineering?
Claire: One person who I think Is hugely inspirational is our Commissioning Managers daughter, Sam Pitman. I met Sam when she joined us one summer for some work experience in engineering. Sam has since gone on to complete her Beng Degree, Masters and is currently a PHD research student. She has gained a placement at CERN in Geneva where she is developing Patient-Specific Radio Frequency/Microwave Engineering Solutions for Ultrahigh Field Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). She also recently appeared on Blue Peter to discuss the role engineers play in the Large Hadron collider and even took a bike ride around it.
Ellen: Dr Helen Sharman who became the first British astronaut and first woman to visit the Mir Space Station in 1991 at the age of 27 - she definitely defied a gender specific role! I was lucky enough to meet her when I was studying at college, and she made me realise that women have the power to do whatever they set their minds to in this industry and that it’s not just for men. Also after talking to her I knew this was the industry that I wanted to be in, and to encourage young women to join and not to be afraid.
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?
Claire: I have been lucky to work within a great team of knowledgeable engineers at Briggs and Forrester which has really advanced my career. I hope I can be of the same inspiration to the young engineers that come through Briggs & Forrester.
Suzy: My hope is that in the future there will be no need for particular initiatives within the industry for women to join, as it will be the norm.
Ellen: I hope to develop in my career as Female Quantity surveyor and become a Chartered Surveyor. Also prove to young women that if you are determined to be the best, you will be the best.