From work experience to GRREC Apprentice Mechanical Engineer
09th July 2019
This story first appeared on GlasgowLive on 4 July, 2019
"I came to Viridor for work experience when I was 15, in S4 at school. When I first came, the centre was an empty shell, as it it was still being constructed and a lot of the commissioning and testing was in process.
Because this is a recycling facility, we were learning about recycling itself, as well as getting experience of working in an engineering environment. I was aware of recycling, my family has always recycled our own waste and I understood the importance of recycling for the environment, but I never knew plants like this one existed, I hadn’t really thought about what happens to our rubbish after it goes in the bins we see everywhere.
Coming here really opened my eyes to the full process of recycling. When I walked into the plant, it was one of those light bulb moments for me and I thought, ‘This is amazing.’
I’ve always leaned more towards technical subjects and I knew I liked engineering from things I’d learned at school. I was shown things like massive trommels that were going to be installed for separating the waste that comes into the plant and I thought they were amazing things to just look at. I was blown away. I remember going home to my parents after my first day and telling them how much I loved it and that I couldn’t wait to go back the next day.
"I loved my work experience. I got to work with some of the engineers on site and one of them said he saw a lot of potential in me and asked if I could come back for a second work placement to learn about other parts of the operation. I came back and learned how to use measuring equipment and tools. I knew then that this was for me, I had always known I wouldn’t enjoy a desk based job. I always took a lot of happiness and satisfaction from designing, making and fixing things. I think that’s the main reason I’m in engineering now.
"After my work experience I decided to leave school and go to college to do an NC in Mechanical Maintenance Engineering. I was the only girl in the class and the guys were all a few years older than me, so I did find it intimidating, it was a bit scary because I was so young. That’s when I first realised engineering is a male dominated industry and if I wanted to be in it then I would have to adapt to it. It was completely different to any environment I’d known so it was quite a big thing for me. The guys helped me a lot and looked out for me, and my lecturers were great too and I felt encouraged by everyone and I liked that. Everyone took a positive interest because it was unusual to have a girl in the class.
"I enjoyed the practical side of college more than the theory. I loved the workshop and pneumatics and hydraulics. I’d be in there for hours working away happily. I couldn’t stop talking about college. My parents would tell me to be quiet for five minutes, at least, to eat my dinner. It was so exciting.
"I was in the plant for the first piece of waste coming through because I was back here on a summer placement after college and I realised the site was almost finished and in the back of my mind I was thinking it would be great to get a job here, because there’s so much resource in what we throw away and people don’t realise what can be done with it. I’m a big believer in recycling and I don’t want the planet to be ruined because of our waste so it makes me happy knowing that I’m doing my bit working here doing a job that I love. It’s crazy that we can recycle materials to be reused or turned into things like bio gas and we don’t do it with everything that we can.
"I started my full-time apprenticeship here last September, after doing my HNC in Mechanical Engineering. I was chosen from over 200 people.
"I didn’t think I would ever get to that point because I did struggle in college at times, because it was a difficult course and college is stressful, but I was lucky I had a really supportive family behind me, and when I came back here to be an apprentice, I just thought to myself, ‘I did it.’ I’d gotten to that place I’d been aiming for for three years and it felt very rewarding, knowing all the hours of hard work got me to where I wanted to be. I’m genuinely just really enjoying my time here and being in the team, it’s great. It just makes me happy and I like to tell everybody.
"I’ll finish my apprenticeship in three years instead of four because I have my HNC in Mechanical Engineering.
"Day to day mostly I work on planned preventative maintenance doing visual inspections and testing equipment to make sure that it’s safe and working properly, or I could be fixing pumps which is harder work than it sounds. I do have a bit of responsibility and I’m trusted already to do certain small jobs on my own. I’m also doing a Level 2 SVQ in my practical skills over twenty weeks while I’m here. I’m involved with the school’s programme that we run. When pupils come in for work experience or on visits and I tell them about my experience in coming to work here and try to inform and inspire them. I know how much my work experience inspired me to push myself and I’m the proof they could do it too and I tell them more about engineering and the kind of jobs they could do. I like giving something back. I also had to give a talk to a lot of our senior staff recently. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into and I found myself standing up there myself, but I just told them my story and it went really well. I had a rush after the talk, that I’d done it.
"I think the first thing I would say to other women thinking of coming into a career they like is, you have to be able to deal with the guys, because it is different from speaking to women, it just is.
"But if you really want to do this and it makes you happy then why would you let anything hold you back? Being happy in what you do is all that really matters. I also feel, that if I’m happy then the people around me are happy and that makes everybody’s day good.
"I’d like to see more women coming into this profession, especially on the hands-on side of engineering, rather than them being put in traditional roles all the time.
"Women do get underestimated in doing a job like this, on the basis of physical strength. We aren’t as physically strong so sometimes things take longer, but those things can be learned through practice and there are lots of mechanical engineering roles out there that women would be brilliant at.
"There’s a lot of skill that women can bring to this kind of work.
"It does smell in the plant but I don’t notice it anymore. It doesn’t bother me, I knew it wouldn’t smell like roses. It’s a waste recycling plant - it smells like a bin - and it’s a hot environment to work in. I shower before I leave the plant every day and I always manage to get a seat on the bus without anyone moving. I have to wear PPE whenever I’m working on site for safety, so gloves, glasses and ear protectors, but I’m happy in my safety boots and bright orange overalls, let’s face it no one is going to miss me in them. The biggest problem I ever really had, was working out how wear my hair, to fit it under my hard hat."
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