As we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day today (23 June), we speak to Karen Andrews about life as a Senior Civil Engineer at nmcn and her work as a STEM ambassador.
Since studying civil engineering and architecture at college in the 1990s, Karen has been in a male dominated environment and built a career path she’s encouraging others to follow. Her experience means she’s passionate about educating young girls about the benefits of a career in construction and engineering – and give a viewpoint from within the industry.
Karen started her current role at nmcn in March 2019 as a Design Lead then moved to the role of Senior Civil Engineer a year later. She has worked in civils for the past 24 years and built up an array of disciplines. She said: “I started off my career through work experience at an architectural design company and they invited me to join them as a Junior Architectural Technician with full scholarship through college/university. I’ve never had the chance to complete a degree, I have a HNC and have worked my way up to where I am through grit, determination and experience.
“I’d worked as a CAD Design Technician from 2000 and continued to do this role up until joining my previous company where I became a CAD Design Team Manager. I was working as a Design Lead for water at nmcn when I got a call from my current manager who asked me if I wanted to go for the Senior Civil Engineer role as they knew I had civils experience. I jumped at the opportunity”
Karen’s role is based in the water side of the businesses, she explained: “My day to day job involves running a team of multiple disciplined engineers and several different projects. I plan our projects and allocate people to different roles by using a matrix to see whose skills we can utilise – I’m also involved in tendering for new business, estimating time frames, general team management and costing projects.
“We work with large utilities suppliers including United Utilities, Severn Trent and Wessex Water to deliver crucial projects for their water infrastructure. It’s a really varied job which relies on a magnitude of different skills.”
When Karen explains about her job, it can surprise people. She said: “I definitely get a reaction from people when I tell them what I do. When I went to college and started my career, I was always the only girl there and site visits would see me as the only female in a hardhat. Thankfully, times are changing now and we are seeing a lot more females on site in roles like engineering and quantity surveying.
“nmcn is really supportive of diversity and I’m honoured to be involved in our diversity network. It’s a way to make our presence and visions known throughout the company and together we’re keen to support the next generation start building their careers in the industry.
“There is a shortage of engineers as a whole, but particularly female engineers and I’m playing my part to change this. As a STEM ambassador, I go into schools and talk to the students about my role as a lot of young people don’t understand what it entails. I also do fun activities with them such as building bridges from Lego and Knex to give them an insight into the industry from a young age.
“I think a lot of young people don’t understand the vast amount of jobs that are available in the construction industry, many see it as just laying bricks. I’m on a mission to make both students and their parents aware of the extensive opportunities.”
Karen’s quest is to break the stigma about women working in the industry. She said: “My message to anyone is that women thinking about a career in engineering is to go for it. it’s an ideal mix to have both men and women working together in the industry, diversity is the key.”
“As there is such a shortage of female engineers, you could find employment opportunities anywhere around the world – there are so many opportunities out there. If you are ambitious and work hard then you will be rewarded with a promising and fulfilling career.”
“The industry is definitely heading in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. My goal is to continue as a STEM ambassador, encourage more girls at nmcn for work experience and invite them for tours and work experience so they can find out what a career in construction and engineering could be like for them.”
International Women in Engineering Day is an annual event to help to raise the profile of women engineers and encourage more people to consider engineering as a profession. The theme of this year’s event is #ShapeTheWorld.
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