Click on the text below to read about the experiences of WES Members and our WE50 winners who have returned to a career in engineering or transferred to a different sector.
More to come shortly!
I took a career break to have a family and always had the intention to return to engineering after the children were at school age full-time. All my plans went out the window when I needed to be there for my daughters during a difficult family time. This extended my time away from work significantly, and left me with a complete lack of confidence and self-esteem after the divorce process and all that this entailed. Not long after that my Mum was seriously ill and after a long period of investigation and tests she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I became one of her carers and the possibility of being able to return to work seemed to be the last thing on my mind. My mother passed away at the end of a tough fight and after a period of bereavement and helping my dad to cope I was finally in a place to consider whether to return to my engineering career. At this point I felt apprehensive, unable, anxious and lacked confidence. This was not helped by the process of applying for lots of jobs and having no replies or receiving rejection letters. I decided to go to the IET as I had kept up my membership on a career break subscription, which is one of the best things they offer! I also discovered WES and ended up talking to a member of their staff, directing me back to my former company BAE Systems, because they had a focus on women returners. Having applied I attended interview and was given an offer.
I can say that I am glad to know about the help you can access through professional organisations like the IET and the women’s support you can access through WES, without these I think I would have given up.
Starting my new job and working in a new domain, in a technical role was challenging. Personally I felt like I had to deal with my self-confidence issues, which still creep into my work life but it’s getting better slowly. Initially I felt out of my depth, there was so much to learn and I spent lots of my personal time learning and increasing my understanding through online courses to try to get up to speed and feel useful. I also went through a phase of trying to prove I was useful and that I could contribute to the success of the project. What I would say is that I have worked hard, but what has made the journey really good is the people around me. I work in a smaller office, where the atmosphere and the people really make it a nice place to go to work.
The difficultly for me was the fact that when I took my career break I had been working on leading edge technology and innovation and using my creativity, which was exciting and interesting. However, after a long career break all the technology has changed and it’s a bit like starting over again and having to learn so many new things. You have to see that as a good challenge, not a problem. As long as the business and project understand that this is the level you are coming in at, then they should be helping you out and supporting you. I would say it’s good to keep communicating to your points of contact e.g. line manager, HR rep. I would also say it is a good idea to get yourself a company mentor and someone not in your project, someone you can talk through issues with as they arise. I would also say, take whatever training the company and project offer you as it all helps.
There can also be a mismatch between the level or grade of engineering you were on and coming back into a business after a long time. My recommendation would be to discuss this at the outset, as your knowledge and expertise may not be current on re-joining, so you might be able to fast track your career after starting in on a lower grade. Learn in and then apply your own capability and this should be recognised in your career development plan appropriately.
So, returning to engineering after a break is all-in-all a good thing, I am having to learn and evolve and develop my strengths and be willing to do any piece of work I am given, but its building my confidence and I feel like I am part of team and contributing just as much as my colleagues. I am pleased to say that my employer recognised my abilities and I was one of the Top Women Engineers 2018, the year I returned to engineering! I can say that there are plenty of people around, in the workplace and supporting organisations to help you through the transition.
I left school in 1992, aged 16 and joined the John Lewis Partnerships’ ‘Junior Circuit Trainee’ programme. My time was spent moving around the various departments, learning how a large retail store is run, both on the shop floor and behind the scenes. After spending many years in multiple departments, I eventually settled into a back-office role. Taking time out to have my first daughter in 2001, I returned before reducing to one day a week after my twin daughters were born in 2004.
In 2006 my Mum offered to look after my children full time so I could return to work. I wanted to find a job locally and came across a position contracting with EDF Energy. I joined the security team in 2006, firstly as an admin assistant and then PA to the Head of Security and Head of Facilities. Managing the accreditation for London Underground staff, I also managed the security checks for EDF Energy staff when they purchased British Energy, the nuclear power company in 2008. The networks part of EDF Energy was sold in 2010 and this is when UK Power Networks was formed. My previous experience helped me gain the position of Accreditation Liaison Officer in 2011, where I managed the Home Office accreditation process so our operational teams could access the London 2012 venues. We were building a completely new electricity network to power the Olympic Games. After a very successful games, for both Great Britain in terms of medals and UK Power Networks, in terms of no power disruption or safety incidents, I became the Security and Logistics Manager for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park transformation project in 2012, where I made sure our engineers could get access to decommission the additional substations, we installed to support the games. Working alongside the operational teams, I was inspired and took up the position of Distributed Generation Business Analyst in 2013. Initially I found the role daunting, providing great customer service was ingrained in me from working at John Lewis but I was now helping customers who were looking to connect renewable energy to our distribution network. My manager encouraged me to reach out to the various departments involved with gaining a new connection and I soon found my ‘go to’ people to help answer our customer technical queries. I was soon picking up the lingo and with the support from my new-found friends, I helped smooth the process of obtaining a connection offer. We listened to feedback and understood the pinch points so we could empower our customers to self-serve to get the technical information they sought. Introducing Distributed Generation (DG) surgeries so customers could talk through project viability ahead of a formal application and creating a DG map, which geographically shows our network, were some of the proudest achievements.
In 2017, with my new confidence I took up the position of Innovation Workstream Lead, initially working on a project to allow more generation to connect in London by use of a super-fast-acting circuit breaker. I joined the Power Potential project in 2019, where I manage relationship with our trial participants. The project is whole new level of technical understanding, I was used the term ‘MWs’, but this project is looking to create a reactive power market which utilises Mvars! Essentially, we are creating a virtual power plant by grouping the reactive response from multiple customers connected to the distribution network to help manage voltage constraints on the transmission network. At the moment there is a lot of generation connected to the south east region of our network and at times when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, the generation can exceed demand which results in the voltage level increasing. If we can procure a reactive power service from distribution connected assets that is both technical and commercially viable, we can avoid the need for network reinforcement, ultimately saving our customers £400m and allow more renewable energy to connect. I have also recently got involved with Flexibility services. I am helping create a market for all customers connected to our network who are able to shift/reduce demand or increase generation for specific timeframes. This again is helping the energy industry to defer network reinforcement, saving our customers money and managing our network efficiently.
As you can see, my career path has taken me to a completely different sector. Never in a million years could I predict that I would end up in the engineering field. My message to anyone thinking about a career in engineering, do it! I have always had an enquiring mind and enjoyed problem solving, engineering ticks both boxes. I can honestly say working at UK Power Networks is like being part of a big supportive family. Everyone here is willing you to succeed and people support one another to learn and grow. Whilst I have considered completing an electrical engineering course, I am going to stay as I am, learning from the inside and bringing a different perspective to our diverse and inclusive business.
I have spent all my working life in the construction industry, starting with an apprenticeship as a traditional carpenter in my native Germany. After a few years, I decided to further my career and studied for a BSc in Civil Engineering in England. After graduating, I worked for a national contractor as a site engineer, working on the bridges for the M6 Toll. Different site projects followed within the water and transport sectors. I worked my way up to senior engineer, becoming involved with subcontractor supervision, quality management and some design coordination. I passed my professional review during this time and am now an incorporated civil engineer.
I then had a nine-year career break to bring up my two young children. My husband also works as a Civil Engineer, so we made the decision for me to be at home while they are young, as he was working away a lot.
During my break, I joined the Cheshire branch of the Institution of Civil Engineers. This enabled me to keep a connection with the industry and to continue networking. I am still the meetings secretary for the branch now.
I started looking into returning to work when my younger child started school. I realised that jobs that were local and part-time were few and far between, even outside the construction industry. I thought about retraining, but felt that I would like to return to a role where I could utilise my previous training and experience. I also could not think of an alternative industry that really interested me.
One problem I encountered was how to approach the opportunity for flexible/ part-time working when this might not have been part of the original job description. Full-time work and commuting further than 30 minutes was not possible for me with the constraints of available child care, which was very limiting when looking at the available opportunities that matched my experience.
The Returners Programme I saw offered by Balfour Beatty was the first role which ticked the boxes of a technical role, as well as being part-time. The company was open to discussions around flexible and part-time working, which really helped with my transition back into work. The Returners Programme was supported by coaching sessions delivered by Women Returners. It is encouraging to see that Balfour Beatty and other construction companies are continuing to offer more returner programmes.; and especially consultancy firms are offering more roles as flexible or part-time. There are also opportunities online, like Women into Construction, more companies offering placements and supported hire opportunities (Women Returners is great for webinars and support when looking into returning tow work).
I have found Balfour Beatty to be very flexible. I am based in the office now, which enables me to work more flexibly than my previous site-based roles. I can access my work from home, so if I need to, I can catch-up on work, or work around meetings away from the office. I think recent developments in technology have helped with these changes. Most of my male colleagues have young families as well now, and they do benefit from the flexibility as well, and can get more involved with their families. My experience has also encouraged me to suggest roles in our team that could be advertised as part-time, to open these opportunities up to more people.
I have been back at work for three years now, working as part of the preconstruction team . I really enjoy my job and the chance to learn different skills on every project. Compared to before my career break, my life feels more balanced, which makes the hard work worthwhile. I am mentoring two civil engineering apprentices and am working towards becoming chartered. Sometimes my role can be stressful, but it is great to be part of a team again and see our projects being built out on site.