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My job explained: Assistant mechanical engineer

My job explained: Assistant mechanical engineerMichelle Mukadam is an Assistant mechanical engineer at RWE npower, a company in charge of a number of power stations across the UK. Michelle talks to us about power stations, making catapults, and how an obsession with Meccano helped her choose her career.

Could you explain what your job involves?

When I first get into work I check the power station logs from the operations shift the previous night, this is to ensure that no major issues have occured and if they have who is dealing with them and when. I usually always have a project on the go so will try to work on that and talk with the power station maintenance team and any contractors involved.

I also have at least one meeting to attend each day. That takes some preparation and can last for at least an hour. I always try to get out onto the station and look at areas that I am involved with whether it be maintenance and repairs, modification and retrofitting or redundancy.

What made you decide to get into engineering?

I think it all started with an obsession with Meccano and Lego when I was very young and I have always been quite practically and logically minded. In school I always played to my strengths and I was good at maths and sciences and I took these options into A-levels. During a careers fair I was told that I should look into engineering so I went on to do a BEng in Mechanical Engineering. I have never looked back since.

What is the training like?

There are two kinds of training within the company; corporate, which is about the business side of things, and more specific engineering training. The engineering courses have been really good. The knowledge that you gain from university is quite broad, so the engineering training provided helps you to focus on what is most applicable in this industry.

The corporate training has also been worthwhile as it lets you meet other people in the company that might not be from your sector and also helps you understand things like management techniques, effective communication and team working. We were actually sent to Germany where we practised our team working skills by making catapults and amusing videos.

What are the best and worst things about your job?

The best things about my job are getting to work with some of the biggest engineering plants in the UK, getting dirty (and not being told off for it), working on new, innovative and exciting projects and meeting lots of different types of people.
The worst things about my job are working some weekends, getting too dirty and excessive travelling.

Why do like working in your industry in particular?

My industry is a neccesity, we will always need power whether it comes from a power station or a wind farm. I also think my industry is exciting, we are always looking at new technologies for better performance and efficiency but also how we can reduce our environmental impact. There are always challenges and the pressure to meet deadlines which ensures that work is never boring.

What do you think is special about engineers?

I love the phrase: "It is not what engineers do, but how they think about the world that makes them different." This to me shows that engineers have to contemplate, they have to be able to see the bigger picture, look at an issue from all sides and then make an informed decision based on reasoning.

Have there been any challenges in getting to where you are?

I have faced some different kinds of challenges to get where I am, some personal some professional. As a young engineer you have to ensure that you build a good reputation and gain peoples trust whether they be contractors or your colleagues. This can be difficult as you can be seen as "not having a clue" against somebody who has 20 years experience on you.

I have also recently relocated within the company which has been a big challenge for me as I am gaining more responsibility and accountability in my job but have also moved away from my friends and family.

What personal qualities are important for your role?

Being able to interact and communicate effectively is key as you always have a team of people working with or around you. Motivation and commitment helps as sometimes things go wrong but you have to keep going and do not lose the determination to succeed in your activities. You must be able to work under pressure and keep yourself motivated. This can be hard so having a good sense of humour is always a bonus!

What single piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Ask questions, especially when you first start out in the industry. There are a lot of engineers that have 20+ years in the industry and most of them are more than happy to share their knowledge with you.

Where do you think you will be in five years time?

I would like to be in a lead mechanical engineer's position at a power station, a lead engineer is responsible for their section of the station and the people in their team.