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My job explained: Senior engineer

senior engineerLeah Pellew is an engineer working for Ford. She’s in charge of million pound projects and manages large teams. Read on to find out how she got where she is and what she plans to do in the future.

What stage are you up to in your career?

I am a senior engineer with Ford Motor Company which gives me a lot of scope and responsibility within the company.

I manage a large team and am currently responsible for four main programs totalling approximately $40m of business. I work with various people, from control engineers, to civil and electrical engineers, environmental engineers, process engineers component engineers and trade union representatives.

Whilst this is a great role, this still is not where I want to end my career! I would ultimately like to be in a senior management role where I have control of greater budgets, greater responsibility for program development as well as more involvement in the development of teams and individuals.

Was there anything or anyone in particular that inspired you?

There was not one particular thing that really inspired me. I am where I am today because of a mixture of many things; namely doing something that I enjoyed and therefore found easy to study, listening to people but finally making my own decisions, choosing to be in environments where I feel happy and having supportive parents.

How long did it take to train?

I would say that I am still training – there is always something new to learn. However, I completed my BSC in Manufacturing and Business studies at Derby University at 21 then went to study for a masters in engineering and Management of Manufacturing Science at Cranfield University.

From there I worked for three years in Hong Kong as a private tutor / office manager for a small company. When I got back to the UK I started working for a packaging company as a graduate trainee in manufacturing production. After two years and a promotion to Process manager, I then started working for Ford Motor Company as a Productivity engineer before being promoted to my current position.

No two elements of my training have been the same. Throughout my time at university and each job I have been trained in various elements, all specific to the role. I am still being trained! For example the next courses I am scheduled to take include 'General Safety' which covers all the laws I need to consider in my job when planning and installing a production line.

Can you describe a typical working day?

The tasks I do vary from day-to-day – even the projects I work on change! I cover various engine programs and as such work with numerous teams of people with each project. No two programs are the same in terms of budgets, level of engineering required, timing, installation requirements or people to work with, all of which make each day different and more interesting.

What's the best thing about your job?

I like working with different people and people who are at different levels within the organisation. One day I can be working with a director of the company, the next I could be working with shop floor operators, builders and even janitors.

I love the fact that every day is different and I have a great variety within my role within the company. I like being able to travel with my job and being empowered to make decisions. I also like the fact that there is flexibility in the role and within the hours that I work

What do you like least about your job?

There is always something you don't like in any job, and I guess for me what I like least is the fact that it takes so long to see the results of the work that you do. Generally, the programs I work on from start to finish take about four years. That's a long time to wait to see all your hard work come to fruition!

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

The first real challenge was I left school with only two grade E A-levels which meant I couldn't attend the university I wanted. So, even the option of going to university was made a lot more difficult than I thought. Derby University however accepted me after considering my GCSE results and passing an interview.

After completing my MSC I decided I wanted to live somewhere different and so packed my bags and went to Hong Kong. However finding a job in manufacturing was not as easy as I thought, so I tried teaching. I enjoyed working as a tutor, but found something to be missing – I wasn't doing what I really enjoyed doing and that was manufacturing. In the end, I decided to come back to the UK.

I have not found any real stumbling blocks working as a woman in manufacturing. Even as a graduate trainee when I was the first female employed in the history of the company to work in the production / manufacturing department. I have always been treated fairly and equally by my male colleagues and have never experienced any problems being in the minority.

What skills do you think you need for your job?

Good communication skills are absolutely essential. If I cannot communicate well, or listen, my job becomes harder, my tasks more difficult and I don't get successful results.

Working in teams is another important skill as most of the work that you do, whether it’s project manager, designing components for an engine or installing production lines, all require you to work with other people. One time you might be the leader of the team, another you may be a key team member, so being able to participate in teams in various roles is vital.

What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?

The best bit of advice I can give to anyone is to do what you enjoy doing and to not worry about what other people think.

What difference do engineers make to society?

Without engineers our life would not be what it is today. An engineer has helped to design and build this computer and printer, the chairs we sit on, the mobile phones we have in our bags, the planes we go on holiday in, even the saucepans we use to cook our dinner. All that as well as the equipment doctors use to tell us what is wrong with us, the tools people use to preserve historical artefacts and the games we like to play.

Literally everything in our lives is affected by the work that engineers do, and so studying engineering and a career in engineering could not be more important.