Special Projects Manager, Rebecca Walpole on her Journey into Engineering

On International Women in Engineering Day, we spoke to Parker Technical Services Special Projects Manager, Rebecca Walpole, about her journey into Engineering and advice she has for women considering a career in the engineering industry.

I really loved school, particularly Maths, English and Art – all of which I pursued right up until my A levels. Looking back, each of these subjects have helped me throughout my career. Engineering requires a good grasp of mathematics, and my love of English has undeniably helped me communicate well – incredibly important when you’re dealing with lots of different people delivering complex projects. People might not necessarily think that art would be an interest that directly supports engineering, but at the end of the day engineers need to be creative thinkers – we’re engineering solutions – so I like to think it has also helped. My first engineering job was in Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawing and I still hand draw / sketch most of my initial solutions for clients. A picture speaks a thousand words!

No one ever mentioned the possibility of becoming an engineer at school, and I think that’s because there’s not enough knowledge about engineering and the careers that are available. Sadly, that probably holds true to this day. It’s funny because when you mention mechanical engineering to people who aren’t in the industry, they think you fix cars… or they think it involves lots of heavy lifting – neither of which are true – or at least not in my role.

Despite not having any specific careers advice from school, my stepdad was a mechanical engineer, and I learnt a lot from him.

I can clearly remember the moment I decided I wanted to become an engineer (disregarding a short spell when I thought being a surf photographer might be a good idea!). It happened when I walked across the Clifton Suspension Bridge when I was about ten years old. I was floored by how amazing it was.

Despite knowing this, when I left home I needed a job, so I worked as a temp answering phones.  I took a job at Solray – a radiant panel manufacturer – to provide holiday cover for 2-weeks.  Whilst there, I told the Chairman that I always wanted to be an engineer.  He said “Well, be an engineer then!”  And that was the beginning.

They put me through my first ONC building services engineering course and the rest is history.  I started in CAD, then estimating and then as project engineer before being a project manager.  I left Solray after about five years and became a mechanical project manager for a mechanical contractor who continued to support me through my HND. I was working on a project for them in 2013 when the consultant approached me and asked if I’d like to be a mechanical consultant – which is how I ended up working as a consultant for a further five years before coming back into contracting after having my son.

What would I say now I’m 23 years into my career in engineering? Well, that there’s work to do around misconceptions and misinformation about engineering – much of which if resolved would likely encourage more women to pursue a career in the industry. Engineers are just problem solvers, whether it’s design, construction, financial or technical. Women engineers will often view problems and solutions differently to men. There’s a huge opportunity for more innovative solutions with a diverse workforce.

If I could give any advice to women contemplating a career in the engineering industry it would simply be, DO IT! Break the stigma.

My current role as Special Projects Manager for Parker sees me working with lots of different clients in some really interesting industries and unique projects. My day always starts with coffee (very important!) followed by emails and then often a site visit to a client who needs work carrying out but doesn’t quite know what is required. I’ll advise and then come back to the office to write up a quote and notes about the visit and hopefully provide a good cost-effective solution that everyone is happy with.

The part of my job I enjoy most is meeting clients and being able to advise them the best solution to their particular problem. No two jobs are the same! I like building a good relationship with them, so we maintain their trust and business for many years.

A standout project I’ve been part of was Kings Lynn Gaol House – as interesting as it was complicated. I designed an archive room which had to maintain temperature and humidity within very tight parameters.  The Archive contains documents dating back to the 13th century; which includes King John’s royal charter of 1204, and continuing all the way to the 20th century.

It’s so important that women are represented in the engineering industry – there are a huge number of jobs and women have different ways of dealing with clients, problems and solutions which makes them very good engineers. At Parker and across the Edwin James Group we’re all working to do better and encourage diversity, so if you’ve been considering an apprenticeship, or indeed if you want a change of career direction then get in touch.