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Leaving retail to pursue a career in engineering with Andrea Alexander

Posted on 19th May 2021 by Marketing Executive - Katherine Ducie

Leaving retail to pursue a career in engineering with Andrea Alexander

With 19% of the UK’s total workforce being employed in the engineering sector, engineering roles in the UK make a significant contribution to our economy [1].

Moving away from the stereotype of men in overalls and hard hats, engineering covers much more than just hands on roles. Based on site, in the lab and even in the office, engineers can be found across a range of sectors, from theme parks to coffee chains to aerospace design.

As well as the variety in disciplines, a report in 2016 found that the average income of an engineer exceeded £42,000, which was 49% higher than the average earnings in the UK at the time [2].

It was also discovered that engineering graduates, from both higher education and apprenticeships, earn £5,000 more than the average salary for graduates [2].

Given this, engineering proves an attractive career for school leavers, graduates, mature students and experienced professionals alike.

After an initial career in retail, Andrea Alexander based in Altrincham, Greater Manchester, decided to retrain in 2012 and undertake a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University, as a mature student.

Now, Andrea works as a Senior Engineer at Engineering Analysis Services Limited (EASL), a niche engineering consultancy based in Altrincham.

In this article, she shares with us:

  • Her reasons for pursuing a career in engineering
  • Her experience of transitioning from retail to engineering
  • The highlights of her current role
  • Key tips for improving your engineering skills
  • Why more women should consider a career in engineering

 

Why did you decide to become an engineer?

“I chose to become an engineer mainly because I loved maths, science and analytical subjects. I have always enjoyed the structure and logical processes involved with problem solving.”

 

How was your experience of moving from retail to engineering and what inspired your change in career?

“It was daunting to move from retail to engineering. I had been in retail a long time initially as a part-time job when still at school, progressing to full-time and followed by several promotions. However, retail was never planned as a chosen career path, it was a part-time job that I enjoyed and which evolved as I was deciding on what course to go for at university.”

“Although I initially studied Pharmacy, after 6 months I felt it was not the right choice for me so I took a year out which lasted several years.”

“It was only later in life that I realised I wanted to go back to education as a mature student. I then chose engineering as I felt it could open up many avenues and I could focus on the subjects I loved at school – maths and sciences.”

 

How do the two careers compare?

“They’re very different, as a lot of my work is computer based now rather than being on my feet on a shop floor. It is a lot quieter in an office environment, which took a bit of getting used to.”

“The communication, time and people management skills I learnt whilst working in retail have been essential in my engineering role.”

 

Have you experienced more opportunities since working as an engineer?

“I have had many opportunities and promotions in both retail and engineering. I was promoted to Assistant Manager of a well-known flagship store in Glasgow, in my early 20’s, whereas now I have progressed from Graduate to Senior Engineer as well as holding other various team lead and contract management roles.”

“I believe if you work hard in whatever you do it will be recognised and rewarded.”

 

Were you ever introduced to careers in engineering at school?

“No, not really. A physics teacher may have mentioned it once. Becoming a pharmacist was definitely promoted more.”

“At school I was very academic and excelled in STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, however, I wasn’t even sure whether I would go to university. I was the first person in my family to do so and my family were very supportive.”

 

What does your current role involve?

“After graduating, I joined EASL and have been working here for almost 9 years. Last year I was promoted to Team Lead, managing 6 members of staff.”

“The main responsibilities include a mix of project management, where I am responsible for financial management and delivery of a quality product to agreed deadlines and being a single point of contact for 4 of the EDF Energy power stations where I undertake technical work covering a range of projects.”

“My job is always varied, demanding, challenging and very rewarding. I get to liaise with many customers and colleagues from different engineering teams. Occasionally, it can get stressful, but we manage this by having a strong team ethos and by really supporting each other.”

“I have also been recently involved in several peer review tasks which involved providing independent expert review of specific technical work for structural engineering. This service is designed to support clients who need to assess the technical validity and sufficiency of work carried out by other service providers.”

“These services involve liaising with clients and key stakeholders to provide an independent and unbiased assessment of a specific issue.”

 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“I enjoy having access and exposure to many different aspects of one project. EASL offered me the perfect professional entry into engineering, as I wanted to work in a well mentored and supportive team where I could work hard to fast track my career.”

“The variety of work I am involved in and the vibe from the team in terms of director guidance has been pivotal as not only am I developing my technical ability, I’m also developing my people and project management skills.”

 

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

“I do feel very proud to be a female in a leading role and to have progressed as far as I have in just 9 years. The best is yet to come!”

 

What are your key tips for improving your engineering skills?

  1. “Choose a company that promotes mentorship – Seek good role models and mentors and ultimately become a good mentor yourself. I am a firm believer of transferring knowledge as a means to becoming more competitive. It is always important to work with a team that promotes those same values.”
  2. “Don’t underestimate the value of soft skills – technical know-how is important, however communication, project management and other soft skills are pivotal to ensuring the success of any engineer. Ultimately, great results rely on efficient and effective communication and teamwork.”
  3. “Be confident. Asking questions, giving opinions and speaking up in meetings will help you get noticed, become an influential mentor and ultimately, deliver your best work.”

 

Do you think there are a lot of misconceptions about engineering?

”Yes, that it is a, ‘man’s profession’. That just makes me want to prove that misconception wrong. Also, I believe that people think it is a very hands-on manual job, which it can be if that is the path you want to take. At the route of engineering is problem solving, whether it is a potential or real problem.”

 

Before becoming an engineer yourself, was engineering something you considered as a ‘man’s profession’?

“I don’t think I gave this enough consideration, as I did get a shock on my first day of university when I was 1 of only 3 girls on the whole of the mechanical engineering course.”

“Yes, there is a smaller percentage of women in engineering and more specifically in Nuclear of which I have spent most of my career. However, if you work hard and let your capability speak for itself then, in my opinion, this is all that matters.”

“There are times when I look around and realise I may be the only female in a meeting or on site when I visit a nuclear power plant but I have only ever had positive and supportive experiences. I do however see more females in the industry now which is excellent.”

 

Would you encourage more women and girls to take up a career in engineering?

“Absolutely. It is a wonderful career choice. There are so many different routes you can take and the work can vary from small individual projects to being part of a large team of engineers.”

“It is very rewarding to be involved in some of the projects I have been lucky enough to work on.”

 

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Related Articles:

Women in engineering: What’s it like to work in a male dominated industry?

What insurance protection do engineers need? A guide to engineering insurance


References:

  1. https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/1576/7444_enguk18_synopsis_standalone_aw.pdf
  2. https://www.ecitb.org.uk/portfolio-items/engineering-today-the-supply-and-demand-for-engineers-in-the-uk/

 


Author Katherine Ducie, Marketing Executive

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