From education to employment

Opportunities in engineering through apprenticeships

FDM everywoman in Technology Awards. Photo by Steve Dunlop.

In light of today’s (22 Aug) GCSE results and the exciting array of next steps available to young people, Jessica Leigh Jones describes her inspiring career journey to date, how apprenticeships can be a great tool to increasing social mobility, and the importance of more women taking up engineering.

Becoming an engineer

My father was an aircraft electrician at the Ministry of Defence. I worked with him as his apprentice on weekends and he taught me the basic principles of engineering. For me, there was no other option than to become an engineer. There was nothing more exciting than being able to conceptualise a solution to a problem and then see it all the way through from design to manufacture to use.

When I hired my first apprentice at Sony, I realised that he had more engineering capability at eighteen than I had potential! As I progressed in my career, I found that my niche was in managing complex projects and getting the best out of technical people. I came to enjoy managing teams of multidisciplinary engineers to achieve much bigger and better things than I could on my own.

The first female UK Young Engineer of the Year

When I was 16, I worked on a project with a medical manufacturer in South Wales. The brief was to redesign one of its leading obstetric products; a monitor used to measure contractions during labour. This project seemed very intimidating as I knew very little about medical equipment, but I soon realised that it was just basic electronics, like my dad has taught me.

The new design reduced manufacturing costs by 99 per cent and I was awarded the Wales Young Engineer of the Year Award.

A year later, I had invented a fibre optic sensor that could measure contractions and much more – the strain of a bridge, or the flexing of aircraft wings for example. Through networking at science fairs, I was able to gain financial support to apply for a patent and begin commercialisation. Unfortunately, there is still no manufacturing process that exists for this technology (yet), so watch this space!

Becoming the first female UK Young Engineer of the Year was a huge honour and an equally large responsibility. It changed my life and gave me the exposure that kick-started my career. I was never good at exams and I didn’t come from an area with good prospects, but I was eager to learn and refused to give up. Since winning the award I’ve travelled internationally to share my experiences with young people. I’ve also had the privilege of mentoring many young engineers through their early careers.

If you continue to do things the same way, you can expect to get the same results

It really doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. We need to showcase engineering for its opportunities and its place in the modern world. We don’t break down stereotypes by saying we need more female engineers, we break down stereotypes by getting out there and doing it and then sharing our passion and experience with others.

It just makes good business sense to increase diversity within our workforce. As Einstein famously said, if you continue to do things the same way, you can expect to get the same results. This is particularly critical at a time where industries are changing rapidly.

Diverse teams provide a well-rounded perspective and solution that’s likely to be accepted by a wider customer base. They also challenge each other to grow which drives productivity. However, in my opinion, diversity is not about gender, ethnicity or age, it’s about diversity of experiences, and the different strengths that people from different backgrounds bring.

Accessing apprenticeships at any stage in life

Apprenticeships are key to social mobility. They are not cost-prohibitive like a university education, and they are accessible to everyone at any stage in their career. There aren’t usually restrictive entry requirements and there are apprenticeships at every level. So by their very nature, Apprenticeships will increase diversity because they are a feasible and preferred option for so many people.

Engineering is a mindset; it’s about creating, improving and implementing great ideas. Engineering gives you the freedom to explore and develop new ideas that impact the world and change people’s lives for the better. No two days are ever the same!

All industries need engineers, so you can guarantee that there is a career out there for you – and an apprenticeship to get you there!

Today’s guest post from engineer Jessica Leigh Jones was first published on Education in the Media here

Jessica is a board member for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and is a multi-award winning engineer and astrophysicist. She is currently responsible for developing the next generation of manufacturing platform at the Sony UK Technology Centre, in collaboration with Japan.

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