Engineering isn't just a man's world

Author: Natalie Peacock, Project Skills Co-ordinator

Three years ago I would never have thought I would work in engineering construction. Now I feel like I am never going to leave the industry.

When I was at school I focused on art and design, and I did an art foundation course at college, then went on to study fashion at university. It was a brilliant course, but after a year I realised it wasn’t really for me, and I didn’t want to put all that effort into something that I didn’t have a passion for.

After that I didn’t know what to do, so I went to work in a call centre for a while before going to a job centre. I was applying for administration and reception roles, when the job centre said there was an opportunity with an engineering solutions provider – Costain. After a pre-employment course and a series of interviews, I was offered a job as a project skills coordinator.

It never occurred to me to work in engineering construction. I thought it was a man’s environment, and I had no idea about the vast array of disciplines that people can go into. Now I think it’s something everybody needs to look into, because there are so many different roles and opportunities.

The project I work on – the M1 Smart Motorway project J28-31 and 32-35a in Derbyshire and Yorkshire – was the first highways project to apply to be a National Skills Academy for Construction. As project skills coordinator one of my roles is to develop and maintain an Employment and Skills Plan for the project. This is an agreement between Costain and CITB that identifies all the training and development that we intend to do on the project. We are audited every three months by the CITB to ensure we are doing what we said we would in terms of employing local people and providing training and development.

A lot of the KPIs that we are audited against are about our subcontractors. They don’t just want to see what we’re doing for Costain employees; it’s about being inclusive both with our subcontractors and the community.

About half my time is spent working with the community – people from job centres or skills centres – and going into schools. The other half is the training and development side: I co-ordinate skills assessments for all the employees on the project, as well as delivery of training and NVQ assessment.

When I go into schools to talk to students, it is nice to show that I’m a woman working in engineering construction, and that there are jobs in the industry for women – that it makes no difference whether you are a man or a woman. It’s also important that we bring people onto the project so that they can see the women who are working on the project in every kind of role.

A lot of sectors have Nationals Skills Academies, and when I started I did think that I could train in engineering construction, and then maybe go into another sector – like retail. But two and a half years on I feel like I’m never going to leave this industry. One reason for that is because it’s very much a team, and every day’s different. I came from a call centre, where you’re working on your own and doing the same things every day, into an industry where everyone’s talking to each other and is there to help each other.

I didn’t know what to expect when I joined Costain, but now I really am the industry’s number one supporter. No-one really talked to me about engineering and construction at school. But because Costain gave me the opportunity, I know that I’ve got the chance to give others the same opportunity, which is why I’m so passionate about it.


Natalie's blog was published to inspire women into engineering in support of National Women in Engineering Day - 23 June 2016

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