International Women in Engineering Day 2021: An interview with engineering apprentice, Morgan Pearce
To mark this year’s International Women in Engineering Day, we spoke to Morgan Pearce. Morgan is a second-year maintenance and operations engineering apprentice at our head office in Washington, UK. Morgan told us of her experiences as a woman in engineering and reflected on her experiences so far.
What made you decide to pursue an engineering apprenticeship over other options available to you?
After completing my GCSE’s, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. A lot of people at 16 don’t have any idea of what they want for their career, or what their options are for furthering their education at this point. As I did well in my GCSE exams, I found myself being pushed to do A-levels – as this seemed to be what you did if you got good grades. So I started my A-Levels and chose subjects I had enjoyed and excelled in; Chemistry, Biology and History. I quickly discovered A-levels were not for me.
I found the change in environment from school to sixth form overwhelming. I was studying with no real direction of what I wanted to do, I didn’t have much confidence, and I wasn’t enjoying the subjects. After a year of worrying about if I was making the right choices, I made the decision to leave and to do an apprenticeship instead.
I’ve always enjoyed a more practical approach to learning and would often help my dad at his building and construction company for extra pocket money. So the idea of learning whilst being able to use practical skills, as well as earning, appealed to me. Combining this with my love of science, I decided that an engineering apprenticeship would be a good route. That summer I did an electrical, mechanical and hand fitting training course with TDR – and really enjoyed it. At this point, I knew it was for me and TDR helped me get this apprenticeship at Walker Filtration.
Where are you at in your studies now?
With Walker Filtration’s support and a lot of hard work I’ve completed my BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Advanced Manufacturing Engineering, with distinctions. I’m now working towards a HNC in Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Tyne Met college, which I’m also on course to achieve full distinctions in.
What does a typical day look like for you at Walker Filtration?
There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ day as they are so varied. I attend to break downs on machinery, spend time refurbishing machines to ensure they are in working order and I support the engineering department with machine installation.
I’m currently working on a project to bring new SPS testers into the shop floor to support increased production, and I’m implementing 5S in the maintenance workshop. This will help improve the efficiencies and output of the department in the long term.
While doing this, I’m also studying towards my HNC and have one day a week at college, which means I keep an eye on my time management and make sure I delegate time to completing my apprenticeship reports and coursework alongside by day-to-day job.
What is your favourite part of the job? What do you enjoy most?
How different every day is! It isn’t the same job every day and there is a lot of opportunity to learn new skills.
And the people – everyone is really nice, and helpful and honest. I was 17 when I started my apprenticeship at Walker Filtration and I was nervous, especially walking through the factory – but everyone smiles and says good morning. Now I am the one smiling and saying good morning to new staff, because I want people to feel as at ease and welcome as I was when I first started.
I also like that despite being the only female in the maintenance team, they all make me feel at home and treat me equally.
Why do you think there is such a small number of women pursuing STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) as a career?
Undoubtedly, we have come a long way in the last few decades but it continues to be a male dominated industry – and this can be off putting to a young woman.
For example, my first experience of an engineering environment was at a training facility. There was two females in a class of 20 men and there wasn’t even a female toilet for us to use. I suppose they never had need for one. I’m pleased to say this has now changed. Simple things like this are important in encouraging diversity and inclusion and making women feel more welcome.
I also think there are still stereotypes about ‘boy’s toys’ and a ‘girl’s toys’, and this carries over into the working world. There is a misconception that engineering involves manual labour or is a dirty job. This leads to it being viewed as a ‘mans’ job’, which is nonsense. And while it can be dirty or involve physical labour, there are so many different types of engineering; CAD, Design, Electrical. If you have talent and are willing to work hard, gender is irrelevant to your capability to succeed in any role.
Schools also have an important role to play in encouraging females to study and grow confidence in STEM subjects. This could mean more are likely to then pursue a career in engineering.
What could be done to encourage women and make it easier for them to choose this as a career option?
A career in engineering offers transferable skills, and the chance to work in a huge range of environments. Engineering is a varied career that touches a huge number of industries and sectors across the world.
More should be done to show that Engineering is a viable career path for females. I was lucky that my school showed everyone what you could do and helped break down some of the stereotypes around gender and job roles. I think everyone holds a responsibility to break down these stereotypes and to help young people know that they can achieve anything, if they put in the hard work.
Exposure to more positive female role models in this profession from a young age would also help, which is why International Women in Engineering Day is so important. It increases awareness of women in this profession and paves the way for future female engineers. Quite often you don’t think you can do something until you can see someone who you relate to doing it too.
Why do you think diversity important in the workplace?
Diversity is incredibly important in bringing new ideas and having a well-rounded team. But I don’t want to be the statistic just because I’m a woman. There seems to be a trend of diversity box ticking at the moment – and while diversity is important, it can be patronising. I want to earn my place and earn opportunities because I deserve it, regardless of gender or background. There should be equal opportunities for all.
What advice would you give to others thinking about pursuing engineering as a career or undertaking an apprenticeship?
For anyone considering studying STEM subjects or becoming an engineer – I’d say go for it! Don’t be afraid of taking alternative routes to achieving this, such as apprenticeships.
There is a massive stigma that apprenticeships are for those that aren’t very clever or don’t have the grades to do A-levels or go to University. This was the impression I had and it is not the case! There are so many different apprenticeships and options out there, all while working towards furthering your education.
Apprenticeships are a great way to start your career sooner. You make fantastic connections and, for me, there were a lot more positives than going the traditional route of A-levels and University. The best part is, you get paid! You are earning while learning rather than accruing debt.
And finally, what are your ambitions for the future?
With a HNC in Electrical Engineering there are so many options for my future career. I plan on staying at Walker Filtration after completing this as the work and the team are fantastic. Future plans for the company mean there are a lot of opportunities. I’d love to work my way up and be able to lead my own team.
I’d also like to continue my education and do a degree, either in electrical engineering or management. Being a woman in an engineering role, I feel like I have more to prove as there are still relatively few women in the industry. Having the qualifications, experience and knowledge means there is no reason to be treated differently because of my gender.
Find out more: International Women in Engineering Day