Forging your own path into Construction - International Women in Engineering Day 2021

Today, as we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) Jessica Buxton, a Trainee CAD Technician, Taylor Ryan, an Apprentice Site Engineer, and Insha Zahid, a Graduate Engineer discuss their own unique career paths into construction and infrastructure, and how gender diversity in the industry can be improved, as well as sharing their personal ‘engineering heroes’. 

We’re dedicated to attracting the best of the next generation of experts to Balfour Beatty and to ensuring we represent the communities in which we work, which includes increasing our female representation within the business.  With 10% of our engineering job family made up of women, we’re committed to doing more in this space. 

We continue to be guided by our Include Everyone Action Plan as we seek to meet current and future skills demands. We know that attracting and retaining a diverse workforce - from entry level through to advanced professional roles - will be key to our continued success.  

We know that our actions to date have put us on the right track. For example, in our emerging talent population (apprentices, graduates and trainees), we’ve almost quadrupled the number of female engineers from 2% in 2014, to 7% today. And in roughly the same period, we’ve also seen an increase in the female population at Balfour Beatty, growing from 16.4% to 18.6% today.  

As we mark International Women in Engineering Day three of our female apprentice and graduate engineers share how they’re forging their own paths into rewarding careers at Balfour Beatty:

Jessica Buxton - Trainee CAD Technician, Power Transmission & Distribution

How did you get into Engineering?  

My route wasn’t exactly straightforward. I left school after my A-levels and started a degree in Fine Art at Derby University whilst working as a pet portrait artist! At this point I was still unsure of what I wanted from a career, but over my three years at University I had the opportunity to explore my career options and realised that I enjoyed computer-aided design (CAD) work: using computer software to design buildings and construction projects.  

I’d always been really interested in buildings and infrastructure and Engineering allowed me to utilise my CAD skills. After I graduated, I started looking for roles in Engineering and I was incredibly lucky to get an interview at Balfour Beatty and started two weeks later as an apprentice Draughtsperson. I’ve not looked back since. 

  

What does your job involve? 

I mainly work with CAD, creating construction and fabrication drawings for electricity pylons, including the steelwork and foundations. More recently I’ve started to gain experience with the Design office where we model steel lattice structures that wrap around the pylons, for structural analysis. I also occasionally get out to climb on site – think pylons and masts! 

 

The theme of this year’s event is ‘engineering heroes’ - tell us about yours. 

My role models include the team of women behind the calculations for the flight trajectories during the space race, what they did was fantastic. Not only did they produce some of the vital calculations for the orbit, they also helped to challenge discrimination.  

Why do you think fewer women and girls choose STEM subjects and careers? 

I think there aren’t quite enough role models. Yes, there are STEM ambassadors, but we need more female engineering examples so that younger women see that construction and engineering companies are diverse and inclusive workplaces, that women can and should be part of. I think things are definitely improving, and personally I’m proud to be part of an organisation like Balfour Beatty that welcomes and supports younger women into the industry. The training and mentorship I’ve received throughout my apprenticeship so far has been excellent and means I’m learning and developing all the time.  

 

What more do you think our industry could do to promote women in STEM careers? 

We could encourage more of our female engineers to get involved with the STEM ambassador programme to help promote careers in engineering. I know that Balfour Beatty does outreach work in schools and colleges which is really great, as it’s important to ignite interest in girls from a young age. Offering work experience is a really good way for younger girls and women to get a taster of the industry. This year Balfour Beatty is offering almost 100 paid placement opportunities, as well as many unpaid work experience opportunities, right around the UK. 

Finally, women in leadership positions networking with and mentoring younger women is really invaluable. Since joining Balfour Beatty I’ve been fortunate to have some great women who’ve taken the time to help me along my apprenticeship journey.   

Taylor Ryan – Apprentice Site Engineer, Thames Tideway Tunnel, Joint Venture between Balfour Beatty, Morgan Sindall, BAM Nuttall

How did you get into Engineering? 

I joined Balfour Beatty on a Level 3 apprenticeship in Construction and the Built Environment at South Thames College back in 2016. After successfully completing that I then progressed on to a part-time Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Civil Engineering at London Southbank University.  

After completing the two-year HNC, I started in year three of the Civil Engineering degree apprenticeship at London Southbank University. I will complete the degree and officially the apprenticeship in summer 2023. Not long to go!  

 

What does your job involve? 

I work on the Hammersmith Pumping Station site in London. There are times when our operatives are working alongside the challenging constraints of a live Thames Water asset.  Part of my role is to prepare health and safety documentation, so a system of work is in place to ensure they carry these works out safely. In addition to this it’s important to monitor the works to ensure they follow the correct methods, so I regularly carry out health and safety inspections of the site as well. Another aspect of my role is Quality and ensuring that engineers check the completed work meets the client’s specifications and tolerances.  

 

The theme of this year’s event is ‘engineering heroes’ - tell us about yours?  

My engineering hero is a family friend in the industry who encouraged me to follow civil engineering as a career path. I did some work experience in year 10 and 11 to figure out if this was the industry for me and it confirmed that it was. I knew I'd found a career path that I'd really enjoy and thrive in. 

 

Why do you think fewer women and girls choose STEM subjects and careers?  

I think in the past, the education system failed to provide girls with the confidence to join STEM subjects as they’re considered to be targeted towards technical careers and I think both the education system and society tends to encourage this route for boys.  

However, during my five years in the industry, I think there has been a noticeable shift change to positively promote STEM to young girls, which is really positive. I love that Balfour Beatty does great outreach work to promote STEM subjects and careers through school visits and events, and I believe this will directly lead to more girls choosing engineering as a career path over the coming years. In 2017 15% of Balfour Beatty’s emerging talent intake was female, by 2020 it had almost doubled to 27%, so things are moving in the right direction. 

  1. What more do you think our industry could do to promote women in STEM careers? 

I think STEM outreach events should be aimed at younger students, as those in year 10 and 11 already have an idea of the career path they want to pursue. In my view, the ideal age would be year 7s & 8s in secondary school, as they haven’t yet picked their GCSE subjects and the whole breadth of careers and options that exist should be shown to them then.  

Insha Zahid - Graduate Engineer, Power Transmission & Distribution

How did you get into Engineering?  

I was very undecided on what to do at university but had quite an interest in mathematics and more practical working. My mentor in sixth form suggested an engineering degree, so I researched the profession a bit more and this is what I decided to pursue. I started as a graduate engineer with Balfour Beatty back in 2019 and will complete my graduate placement later this year.  

 

What does your job involve? 

As a Power Transmission & Distribution graduate the scheme is rotational. You spend six-month rotations in different parts of the business. I’ve already spent six months in the design office preparing drawings for our Viking Link project - an electricity project connecting the power systems between the UK and Denmark. Once I’ve completed these six months, I’ll be moving onto a role on site, which I’m really excited for.  

  

The theme of this year’s event is ‘engineering heroes’ - tell us about yours? 

My mentor at my sixth form college was one of the main reasons I ended up pursuing a career in engineering. She encouraged me to utilise my stronger academic abilities and pursue something that would be really rewarding. Without her guidance, I wouldn’t be enjoying a career as an Engineer today. 

 

Why do you think fewer women and girls choose STEM subjects and careers? 

Women tend to be under-represented in our sector and that unfortunately means there aren’t as many visible role-models. I believe things are changing for the better, and Balfour Beatty does really great work in recruiting female graduates such as myself, and then giving us the quality training and development opportunities to make sure we succeed. If the whole sector builds and expands on this, as I know Balfour Beatty plans to, then in another ten or twenty years I hope to see equal representation!  

  

What more do you think our industry could do to promote women in STEM careers? 

I think making girls aware of the benefits of a career in STEM at a younger age is key. Start the conversations very early and have workshops to demonstrate the work and opportunities available and I know this will help to encourage more young girls into the industry. 

Hear from more of our incredible female engineers: