From education to employment

International Women in Engineering Day 2024: How Olivia went from Lego bricks to Design Engineer

From playing with Lego building sets as a child to working for a UK construction supplies firm – a University of Sunderland student is sharing her engineering journey as part of International Women in Engineering Day.

Olivia Mccourt is in her final year of her Mechanical Engineering degree and despite not graduating until July this year, she is already working for Birtley Group as a Graduate Design Engineer.

The Chester le Street-based firm is home to some of the UK construction industry’s most trusted names: Birtley Lintels, Bowater Doors, Birtley Masonry Support and Expamet.

Olivia joined Birtley Group in March this year as part of a graduate development programme. As part of her role, she is currently working on a new product development, which includes the design, development, testing and manufacture of various products for the construction sector.

So when did Olivia first realise her passion for engineering?

“I’ve always been interested in how things are made and enjoyed making things and playing with Lego as a child,” Olivia, 22, from County Durham, explained.

“However when I was around 13 or 14 and was considering my subject options at school for GCSE, I looked at what qualifications were required to be an engineer and they happened to be the subjects that I enjoyed most – maths, physics and design/engineering so I pretty much decided then that I was going to choose a career in engineering.”

After graduating, Olivia plans to continue working at Birtley Group and progress her career within the firm.

When asked if she thinks engineering is still considered to be a masculine profession, Olivia said: “I don’t think there is currently enough discussion or awareness around engineering being an obvious career choice for women and girls.

“I believe there needs to be a campaign specifically targeted at girls explaining the variety and opportunities which exist across the engineering field and why it is a great career choice.

“An engineering team comprising of both women and men can complement each other’s approach, which will likely lead to better outcomes.”

As we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day on Sunday (June 23), Olivia is encouraging more young women and girls to consider a career in the industry.

“I’d say go for it. Engineering is all around us every day. From the buildings we use and the transport we get around on, to manufacturing and food production and luxury goods and essential services like water and energy. You name it, it all involves engineering.

“It can be a very rewarding career and I think we really do need to change the mindset that engineering is only for men.”

Dave Knapton, Associate Head of the School of Engineering at the University of Sunderland, said: “There are a huge number of different aspects to engineering. Gone is the traditional image of people wearing overalls and getting dirty (unless you want to). Engineers work in high tech industries with latest technology. This provides an exciting environment to solve real world problems.

“It great to celebrate Olivia’s success and see how she has been determined to realise her goals. I’m sure this attitude will continue into her career as she continues to learn and adapt to new challenges.

“Finally, I would like to echo Olivia’s sentiment, if you think that engineering could be a career for you, don’t be too quick to discount it. Make it your mission to find out which area of engineering might align with your skills and interests and as Olivia says, go for it!”

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