Meet Stefanie, a qualified multi-skilled engineer. Having always been interested in a practical based career, Stef made the brave decision age 35 to alter her career path and embrace her passion! We caught up with Stef to find out more about her route into engineering.
What is your current role?
I am the Assistant Contracts Supervisor at Hemlow, based in their Slough office.
What is your professional background?
When I was younger I always wanted to work in the media! However, when I left school I found myself in mainly administration roles based in offices.
It was during this time that I kept noticing engineers or contractors coming into the office space to help maintain it, whether that was fixing a light fitting or getting up a ladder to look at the ventilation. I always wanted to know what they were doing and took a real interest in it. It made me want to get out of an office based role.
So I did!
It was a scary decision to make such a drastic career change, I was 35 at the time, but I went for it and took a leap of faith. I did my research and decided that I wanted to become an electrician and went back to college to begin my training.
After college, I got accepted onto an apprenticeship with a major M&E supplier. I was placed on a static site that was actually undergoing a huge refurbishment so the role ended up being much more multi-skilled focused. I was thrown into being surrounded by many different trades including plumbing and works on AHUs and fan coils. It is not the role I had originally aimed to do and was a huge learning curve, but I loved it! It was so interesting and I had so many questions as I was desperate to learn more and take it all in.
That feeling of great accomplishment, when you managed to fix something in a challenging situation, or when you found a solution to a problem, made me realise this was the industry for me!
I really enjoyed my time on the site and was even promoted to supervisor but eventually, I was itching for a new challenge so decided to become a mobile engineer. I had only experienced life as an engineer on this one site so jumped at the idea of being able to travel round in my van and see many different other types of plant.
Changes in the company eventually saw me transferred to another major M&E firm. After a short period there I came across the Assistant Contracts opportunity at Hemlow.
Although it would mean going back into a role, the majority of which would be office based, I liked the look of the culture, the available progression and the idea of working for a privately owned business. Plus they were clearly going through a period of rapid growth so I knew that challenge would keep me excited! Which brings us up to now!
What does your role entail?
Currently, on a day to day basis I help manage the maintenance of buildings in our portfolio for both planned and reactive works, reporting into the Regional Manager. I liaise with both clients and engineers as well as third parties including sub-contractors. The majority of the time I am based in the office working on emails and producing quotes, it’s very fast paced! However, I still go out to site every now and then for internal audits and client meetings.
What do you think are the current challenges for women in the M&E industry?
That there’s not enough of us! So subsequently there are not many role models.
I think it’s much better than it has been before but there’s still a way to go to help get more women into M&E. I’ve faced my own challenges in the sector. Even though I was often the one with the most knowledge on site, people would walk straight past me and head straight over to a lesser experienced male temp, presuming he was the more senior engineer.
I was often questioned when I turned up to site, why I was in this role? Had my company really sent me on my own? People also felt that because I was a woman they should be offering to do the manual work for me, climb the ladder or lift something, but I didn’t want them to; it was my role and my responsibility which I had been trained to do and in the safest manner.
The important thing is to have is confidence in yourself!
What skills are important to have in this industry?
Resilience is key!
As well as good attention to detail and that you need to be passionate about what you do, you have to care! I would definitely recommend having completed an apprenticeship.
However, if I had known earlier that I had wanted to get into this industry and that there were opportunities for me it would have made all the difference. I never thought of building services as an option because no-one mentioned it to me at school.
Do you think there are enough female role models in the industry?
No – in my experience I have only worked with one other female, and she was great! She gave me fantastic advice and was very supportive. During my time at college, when training as an electrician, out of the 60 people on the course I only met two other women over the four year period I was there.
Again, I do think it’s better than it was before. I think women in the industry, myself included, need to profile ourselves more. The more people see it, the more they will be aware of the opportunities.
Who has been your biggest influence in your career?
My Mum and Dad have always been so supportive of my career choice. My Dad is a very practical man, I have fond memories of helping him build and fix things in the garage, and my Mum has a great “can do attitude”. I’m not sure there is anyone specific in professional terms but I have always responded well to people with a positive attitude.
What advice would you give someone looking to start working in your sector?
Definitely do it! Make sure you do your research, look into options for courses and apprenticeships. If you have the opportunity to, I would suggest speaking to people in the industry and getting some advice from them, as it wasn’t until I got into the industry I realised there was the option to be a multi-skilled engineer.
The earlier you can get into the industry the better, however, it’s never too late! I was 35 when I decided on a career change.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
In 5 years’ time, I would like to have moved into a senior management role within projects. My ideal role would be a BMS projects manager! I would also like to have completed further training courses, the industry is always evolving and I want to focus on my own professional development and keep up!