3rd year Standard Grade Chemistry, Unit 3: “Hydrocarbons”, end of unit test… I got 100%! The energy industry had caught my heart, and from that point, I was hooked.
I applied to study Chemical Engineering at Imperial College in 2005. As a young gay teenager, the lure of London and starting a new life in a vibrant, metropolitan city was too enticing to turn down. Results day came, grades were achieved, and off I went at the tender age of 17.
My degree course was very challenging. I had a bout of delayed homesickness, and after my first term returning home for Christmas, I did not want to go back. I was struggling with the maths and did not think I was the right calibre for Imperial. Thankfully, due to a strong friend support network and great pastoral care, I did return for the winter term and went on to get a 2:1, which is something I was incredibly proud of.
I specialised my studies in energy engineering and landed a sponsored place at the Qatar Carbonates Carbon Storage Research Centre at Imperial. Here I was to pursue a PhD in carbon capture and storage. I designed, manufactured, commissioned and tested my own piece of equipment in order to generate the results I needed for my thesis. I spent months dealing with leaks, fixing broken seals, bending ineffective tubing, recalibrating sensors and devices after issues had arisen…the list went on! At the end of it, while proud of what I had achieved, I knew for sure that staying in academia wasn’t for me.
Reflecting on my undergraduate degree, I had enjoyed the safety design report I did in my final year project on a solar power plant. With that in mind, I took a job in the consultancy ERM Ltd as a safety and risk consultant. Here, I worked on safety cases and technical reports for oil and gas and energy companies. This was a great introduction, but I felt it too far removed from design teams where workshops took place.
My next move took me into engineering contracting, and I was offered a position at Granherne, a consultancy firm owned by the American engineering company, KBR. Granherne had the culture of a small family firm but in a large corporate environment, so I had the best of both worlds. I loved it! I worked in the Risk, Safety & Environmental group and it was this team which helped shape the professional I became. Within two years, I worked with over ten clients across many different facility designs from offshore oil and gas platforms to LNG barges. I loved the diversity of our client base and the problems which we had to solve.
Outside of the day job, my passion for equality, diversity and inclusion grew in parallel. I set up InterEngineering in 2014, and I knew I wanted to set up my own business to speed up the rate of change of creating an inclusive engineering industry. Three months ago, I left the safety net of full-time employment and set up EqualEngineers. We will be the go-to recruitment hub connecting inclusive engineering and technology companies. One way of doing this is by running annual apprenticeship and graduate careers fairs. Our first fair will take place on Saturday 11th November, at Millennium Point in Birmingham. Over 50 inclusive companies will be on hand, showcasing their opportunities to more than 1,000 diverse students.
In 2018, we will run four fairs in February aimed specifically at apprentices (Edinburgh, Birmingham, Bristol and London). In October, another four for graduates will take place due to phenomenal demand.
We, as an industry, keep talking about a ‘leaky pipeline’ and issues of attracting and retaining young, vibrant engineers. The engineer inside me to take action and engineer a solution. We need to increase the rate of culture change and acceptance in engineering.
There are many analogies between promoting a positive safety culture in engineering and the positive effects of promoting inclusivity in engineering. Raising awareness of this, encouraging companies to adopt such strategies, and providing opportunities for new sources of talent is how I am now applying my skills as an engineer. And I love it!