Sarah’s manager collects her award, with Sarah attending the event via FaceTime!
I never really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted to be part of a team, helping solve problems and doing something that I could be proud of. I decided to apply these desires to a career in the Royal Air Force, as an avionics technician. Here, I was working on radar, communication and flight systems on helicopters- this definitely ticked the right boxes for me!
I completed an engineering apprenticeship, gaining qualifications and hands on experience, while earning and getting to travel and meet some incredible people.
After leaving the RAF, I began working as a controls engineer for South West Water, traveling around the South West and working in numerous fresh and waste water sites. Although there were elements of the role that I loved, there wasn’t the room for development that I was looking for, so I decided to move away from engineering for a while.
During this time, I worked as a branch manager for HSBC, developing my leadership skills and allowing me to work directly with people. However, I missed engineering. After an 8 year break, I started work in the engineering department at the Wrigley factory in Plymouth.
I spent the first 12 months working in the Facilities Department, maintaining all the of the factory utilities. This included making sure the lighting, boilers and electrical infrastructure across the plant were functioning efficiently. I was also able to get involved in diverse projects, such as upgrading the factory roof and building an onsite Gym.
For the last 3 years, I have been leading a team of engineers who are responsible for maintaining all of the production equipment used to make our chewing gum. Half of the team respond to breakdowns as quickly and safely as possible, while the other half deal with planned maintenance and continuous improvement projects. As engineers, it’s down to us to find new ways of being efficient or improving the quality of our product.
It has been fantastic to combine my passion for engineering with my love of working with people as I lead my team to providing the best service to our customers and consumers. Alongside working as a full-time engineer, I am also studying part time for a degree in business management through the Open University. This allows me understand the ‘end-to-end’ of the supply chain, and helps me to build my business acumen. More importantly, it allows me to articulate to my team where we fit, and the impact that engineering has on the ‘bigger picture’! I’m now in my 4th year of study, with 2 more years to go.
This month has been a highlight of my engineering career so far, as I was honoured to receive the ‘Food and Drink Engineer of the Year’ award. Although I couldn’t be there to collect it in person, my manager took me up to collect the award via FaceTime!
I received the award for a programme that I implemented within my team to help drive efficiencies within the factory. Through upskilling and developing my team, we have driven our technical losses from 25% downtime two years ago, to a record low of 5.7%.
Although it was difficult being the only female in a team of 41, with me managing 34 other engineers, I can honestly say that I love my job! I feel incredibly proud that I was the first female engineer to work for Wrigley and can be a role model for the young women now joining my team. We are able to share our strengths and perspectives within the STEM environment and really make a difference.
My top tips for the future:
- Understand the experiences you want to get out of your career. Whether it’s team work, problem solving, or helping others, find what you love and follow a career that uses it!
- Be bold. Play to your strengths and allow others to benefit from the diversity that you can bring to a career in STEM.
- Don’t be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life. I love being able to balance a career, a family and studying for a degree.