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My job explained: Engineering Business Operations Manager

My job explained: Engineering Business Operations ManagerHeather Clarke manages engineers at Atkins Global. She explains why people skills are vital to the engineering industry.

Can you tell us a bit about your job?

I am currently a Business Operations Manager for a team of 50 Health, Safety and Environmental engineers in the oil and gas sector. I am responsible for the day-to-day care of the team, the profit and loss accounts and future planning and growth.

Can you describe a typical working day?

I tend to start really early - 6am - to have some peace time before the team arrive. I spend a large proportion of my time listening to my staff, and helping them to develop into the engineers / project managers / technical specialists that they would like to be. I review project proposals before they are submitted to the client to ensure that the methodology and pricing is in line with expectations. The rest of my time is generally spent answering emails and questions relating to the running of the business group and strategy for the future.

Why did you choose the career path you have taken?

My career plan was to become an electronic engineer. I realized very early that I was more suited to being a mechanical engineer, which is the path I have since followed. I have spent 20 years in the rail industry working in various engineering, technical, project management and management fields. The opportunity to move to a new industry in an overseas location was too good to miss. I have the chance to use my strongest skills in people management while learning a new industry. I am taking every opportunity and running with it.

What qualifications do you have?

  • GCSEs
  • BTEC ONC Mechanical and Electrical Engineering
  • BTEC HNC Mechanical and Production Engineering
  • BEng(Hons) Mechanical Engineering
  • CEng
  • Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  • Prince 2 Practitioner

What other skills do you need?

People skills. 80% of my job now involves interacting and managing a team of 50 people in an industry which is fast-paced. The ability to communicate with all levels of an organization is important in order to make a difference.

What’s the best bit of your job?

The satisfaction of seeing that you have made a difference to someone’s life.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Not being able to make everyone happy all of the time. When a member of the team decides that it is time to move on to a new company it is hard not to take that personally. It is difficult sometimes to balance business priority with the need for staff development and coaching.

Was it hard to get your first job?

When I was at school I applied for my first job with the intention of it being good interview practice for university. The process was application, psychometric tests with first stage interview (over lunch – that was tough with tomato soup and a white interview blouse!) followed by a second interview.

Very surprisingly I was offered the job. It then became impossible for me to say no as they were prepared to sponsor my continued education whilst I received training in the career path I craved. I was very lucky it was simple for me.

What advice would you have for people who want to follow in your footsteps?

Keep a smile on your face, take every opportunity that comes your way and remember that there is no such thing as a silly question except the question that is not asked. I was once told ‘A company will feed you but not spoon feed you’: sometimes you have to go and get your own opportunities in order to progress and grow.