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Sarah Jamieson: "Don't be put off by being the only woman in engineering, you won't be!"

Sarah Jamieson claims she was never told in her early life that a career in engineering was an option for girls like her. And until she “fell into” engineering after being offered her first role, she had no idea that jobs like hers even existed.

But fast forward a number of years and Sarah is now a Production Controller at Alstom. She began as an electrical apprentice with Intercity and stayed with the company when they later became known as Alstom.

“I thought I might be forced into a role which was deemed more suitable for women; in an office or a bank, but I knew that a role like that wasn’t for me”, Sarah says.

For Sarah, no two days are the same. Her varied role focuses on the maintenance of the trains with her main objective being the safety of customers.  

“I thought I might be forced into a role which was deemed more suitable for women; in an office or a bank, but I knew that a role like that wasn’t for me”, Sarah says.

“Part of my role is to arrange where the trains are going once they are in the depot, and to make sure that they depart on time”, Sarah tells us, “and I’ll also plan the next maintenance stop for each of the trains, which can be based on mileage or [the number of] days.”

To ensure that her colleagues are also safe, Sarah has been trained to carry out overhead isolations of the electricity and power, meaning that if needed, she can cut the power while the trains are being worked on. And when she is not focussing on maintenance, Sarah will liaise with customers and clients, making colleagues aware of when clients are due to be on site, where they will be and when.

Passionate about her role, Sarah describes how it brings her many opportunities to problem solve. “It’s the most enjoyable part of my role and I love to work with others to find the most quick and efficient solutions.”  Sarah further explains that despite being in her industry for some time now, and starting out way back when gender stereotypes and discrimination where more prevalent, she has always felt supported since making her choice to enter the field. “My partner has always been supportive, along with my dad, but I’ve also been fortunate to have the support of my company too.”

Sarah further explains that despite being in her industry for some time now, and starting out way back when gender stereotypes and discrimination where more prevalent, she has always felt supported since making her choice to enter the field.

Sarah is also proud to have achieved so much in her working life; becoming a fully qualified engineer after completing her apprenticeship, being invited to work with Alstom SAP which implemented a new company-wide computer system, and on a personal level, being able to continue in her role whilst having a family. “I was worried I may have to give up my job when I became a mum, but finding this wasn’t necessary solidified my career for life.”

So, as a woman who it would appear has her dream career, we asked Sarah why, despite success stories like hers, she feels there are still a lack of women studying engineering.

“It could possibly be because they don't really know it’s a choice”, she replies. “Looking back at my school days I was never told that this was a legitimate career choice. It may have been for the boys, but never to the girls.”

Sarah also shared that women might be put off by the pre-curser that all engineering roles are dirty, and not glamorous and added “I actually enjoy the getting dirty part of my role, but not everyone has to do this. There are also a lot of office-based engineering roles, where no overalls are required!”

And Sarah reminds us that women can still work in and support the engineering industry without being an engineer. She cites Health and Safety, HR, Marketing and Finance as all being roles which engineering firms will need.

And Sarah reminds us that women can still work in and support the engineering industry without being an engineer. She cites Health and Safety, HR, Marketing and Finance as all being roles which engineering firms will need.

Sarah urges girls not to be scared off by potentially being one of the few women to do it. She knew that she wouldn’t be happy in an office environment and looked into options at her local college. “I originally took a course in designing tools – even though it was interesting, it wasn’t right for me. I just kept looking until I found a path which excited me. My college were good at offering that kind of support.”

Whilst studying her BTEC at college, Sarah remembers there not being any differentiation between boys and girls, but admits that a lack of women in her workplace became more evident, and a divide between her and some of the men was noticeable. “I never let this bother me though – I knew from day one this was where I was meant to be.”

And tips to girls from Sarah?

“Girls should absolutely consider engineering as a career and if they think it could be for them, they should do lots of research on the various roles.” She adds, “Ask lots of questions, whether that be to a careers advisor in school, or someone who you know in engineering. If they don’t have the answers, they will be able to point you in the right direction.”

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