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Sunday 23 June will mark 2019’s International Women in Engineering Day. This global awareness campaign, coordinated by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), aims to increase the profile of women in engineering worldwide and focus attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in engineering and related industries.

The theme chosen for International Women in Engineering Day this year is ‘Transform the Future’ it is both aspirational and inspirational to encourage women to choose a career in engineering. It is also one part of the Women’s Engineering Society Centenary theme which is ‘Remembering the Past, Celebrating the Present and Transforming the Future.’ In the UK the number of women working in engineering is still only around 12% - much lower than where it should be. This is also highlighted in our own team of engineers at AJ Power. We sat down with Niamh Carey, the only female within our engineering department, to have a chat with her about her role, her path into engineering, what advice she would offer anyone entering the world of engineering or STEM and what she felt are the developments which are going to impact engineering over the next years. Niamh has overall responsibility for the AJ Power 3 Series range of generators with electrical output from 10kVA to 64kVA and is also the principle engineer for the introduction of Stage V engines into genset production.

Niamh Carey – Mechanical Engineer AJ Power

When did you know that you wanted a career in Engineering?

Looking back on it now, a career in engineering was on the cards for me from a very young age, without being blindingly obvious at the time. Through close family relationships I developed a range of transferable skills especially in DIY with my father and grandfather who both had engineering roots.I spent a lot of time with them working on various projects from taping holes for a replacement projector bracket to building/mending model airplanes. Accompanied with my mother’s flare for fabric creativity in upholstery and dressmaking, it is really no wonder I ended up in a design role. Although I believe I can accredit the defining moment I decided to become an engineer to a Queens University, Belfast lecturer. Whilst talking to him about the Product Design Engineering degree at a university open day and watching his shocked reaction to a girl having achieved an A grade in Technology and Design at both GCSE and AS Level. In that moment I knew I wanted to prove him wrong, that if anyone was going to fight the battle for a female engineering professional, it would be me.

What was your path into Engineering?

When explaining my route into engineering, I always tell people I “fell” into it. I had a number of career options in mind when it came to subject choices in school. Unable to make a decision, I simply chose subjects I enjoyed, Art and Design, Business Studies and Technology and Design. These subjects led me hand in hand down the route of product design. With a slight drop in a predicted grade come A Level results day, I began my university journey studying a foundation degree in Product Design and Development Engineering and subsequently followed onto the Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.

What does your job involve?

No day is ever the same and I have a wide variety of roles. My main role is that of a mechanical engineer who has overall responsibility for the 3 Series range of generators with electrical output from 10kVA to 64kVA. Seeing designs through from concept, manufacture and production as well as co-ordinating component updates, production changes and specific customer enquiries. In addition to this main role, I am the principle engineer for the introduction of Stage V engines into genset production. Lead engineer to 3, 5 and 7 Series product engineers and professional mentor to two Higher Level Apprenticeship students currently working towards a foundation degree in Mechatronic Engineering. CAD Manager of PDM Professional, Solidworks and Draftsight, maintaining servers, licensing, training and software upkeep as well as in-house engineering support. Conduct routine maintenance for technical compliance with CE, to include testing, compiling evidential reports and filing for certifications. I have a key role in recruitment and interviewing of apprentice, placement and graduate engineers including attendance at careers events and fairs. I have continuous collaboration with our sales and marketing department as a technical contact and I am a member of the internal auditing team ensuring companies compliance with ISO9001 (Quality), 14001 (Environmental) and the new 45001 (Health and Safety). I establish and maintain relationships with suppliers to aid product development and continued product supply which may involve UK and European travel representing both the engineering department and AJ Power whilst visiting suppliers and attending exhibitions.

What advice would you give any young person looking to get into this sector?

I volunteer as a STEM Ambassador for Northern Ireland, where I actively encourage the younger generation into pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers. Through school visits, mentoring and judging at various STEM events. I have a few pointers that I tell them on a regular basis:

University - University is NOT the only avenue. With the ever-increasing demand for engineers there are a number of routes which you can take to progress in your engineering career. For those who are put off by full time study there is the option of apprenticeships. Speak to your local regional college or sit down with a careers advisor to find out all of the options available to you. Schools can sometimes give the impression that there is no other option but to go to university straight after a levels, but for many people this isn’t the right avenue for them and it isn’t the only option!

Maths - if university is your choice studying Maths is a must. I know it can be a hateful subject at the time, it was a sticking point for myself in school too. But it is increasingly becoming a permanent subject requirement on many university courses, not just engineering. I thoroughly believe my degree would have been a lot simpler if I had that Maths grounding behind me.

Confidence… Have confidence in your ability. Figure out where you want to be and work your hardest to get there. I can guarantee, if you really want something, you will find a way to get it. Regardless of your grades. Don’t let anything get in your way.

Why do you think it is important that we should encourage young people to continue studies within the area of STEM? As the sole female engineer within AJ Power it never ceases to amaze me how many times, I have to explain that as an engineer I do not spend my day in overalls working under a dirty car bonnet. We need to continue to fight this stigma and increase the awareness of just how important engineers are to our everyday life. We hear all about the inventors who dream up the next innovation and the businesses who market and sell it to success, however we hear very little about the middle men and women, the engineers who take that dream and develop it into a product that is commercially viable. Engineering is such an exciting role with so many opportunities in a variety of industries that you will be able to find a job that you won’t dread getting out of bed for in the morning. With an abundance of grants and benefits designed to entice people into a STEM career in conjunction with the guarantee of a job due to a UK skills shortage it’s hard to find reasons not to become an engineer.

What developments are going to impact the sector in the next 5 years?

The changes in emissions legislation as well as the increased awareness of waste recycling and pollution in general to protect the environment we live in will have a huge impact. It is already changing regulations for engine suppliers to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals their exhaust systems are forcing out into the atmosphere, kicking off the introduction of Stage V. Continuous research and development of the combustion process and ways to improve it combined with innovations in materials, manufacture and production has provided a gradual increase in the mechanical output we can now expect from engines regardless of their size. This progress is ongoing and constantly moving forward, proven by the introduction of hybrid and electrically driven cars.

Niamh is a fantastic ambassador for engineering not only for females but the next generation of young engineers that we have the responsibility of shaping and moulding through our Higher Level Apprentice programme here at AJ Power. Through her work as a STEM NI Ambassador she is dedicated to share her passion about the advancement and interest in STEM subjects to as wide an audience as possible which can only result in a positive impact and transform the future skills of our young people in this sector.

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