Case study

Engine development engineer — Emilie Weaving

After deciding that university wasn't for her Emilie applied for a higher apprenticeship at JCB. Learn more about her apprenticeship experience and her job post graduation

Engineering is a typically male-dominated industry. Why did you decide on this career?

I've always been drawn towards engineering as I love hands-on work, together with the theoretical side of maths and physics. Growing up motorcycles were a huge part of my life as my Grandad raced in the Motorcycle Grand Prix in the 1940-50s. My primary school had an incredible design and technology department that taught me valuable hands-on skills from a very young age. I spent hours as a child helping my Dad with his woodwork creations, and I have a lifelong passion for Lego which continues to this day.

Why did you choose an apprenticeship over going to university?

When I completed my A-levels, I went straight into full-time work at a Ducati dealership as a trainee motorcycle mechanic. I was offered this position while working part-time alongside studying for my A-levels. I didn't like the thought of a university lifestyle, and in all honesty I'd had enough of studying and just wanted to get into the world of work.

Five years later when I was looking at my options for furthering my career, an apprenticeship was the obvious choice for me. After working full-time I didn't want to become a student again, so the chance to study alongside working really appealed to me.

What was the application process like?

I was a late application to the official apprenticeship scheme, as I had missed the deadline for applying for that year. I emailed my CV and a cover letter to JCB's Early Careers team anyway, and subsequently found out that someone had dropped out of their final selection for that year's intake.

I was invited to an assessment centre they were running for the graduate scheme, where I had a 1:1 interview, was part of group practical sessions and delivered a presentation sharing why I thought I should be selected. Fortunately I was successful, and was added into their higher apprentice intake as a late entry.

What did your apprenticeship at JCB involve?

I was based in the engine development team for the three years of my apprenticeship, with two short eight-week placements in different business units within JCB.

On day release from my role at JCB I completed a foundation degree in Integrated Engineering, an NVQ Level 4 and a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. As part of my apprenticeship I went on residential trips with JCB, became a STEM ambassador and gained my Engineering Technician professional registration with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

How did you balance working with studying?

I made sure I was really well organised with my time, so at the start of every week I would schedule in blocks of study time with a clear objective for each block. This meant that I would focus for these periods, and as long as my objective was met then I could reward myself with doing something nice like going for a walk or meeting a friend for dinner.

You have to be more organised when you're working four days a week. It's so important that you plan your study time but also your relaxing time otherwise you'll burn yourself out. I made sure I optimised time like travelling on the train to university, by either reading journals or working on a particular assignment.

Tell us more about your job now you've graduated.

My typical day hasn't changed that much since I graduated, as I was offered a place in the team I'd been working in throughout my apprenticeship. I spend the vast majority of my time working on my laptop - planning and co-ordinating upcoming tests, analysing data and writing technical reports once testing is completed. I spend the rest of my time based on the test cells where the engines are run, working alongside the technician providing support and instructions, and making sure everything is running as I need it to be.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Identifying the root cause of a particular problem and working through ideas to find the optimal solution. I love working in a fast-paced, innovative research and development environment, and I get to be involved in a really interesting mix of projects. I am responsible for managing my own workload, which means I plan my days and make sure that I deliver what is required of me at the right time.

What are the challenges?

I always have a heavy workload, which means I often run multiple engines at the same time. This means that I have a backlog of technical reports to write, as our priority is keeping the engines in the test cells running.

What are your career ambitions?

Since I was a little girl I've always dreamed of becoming Valentino Rossi's crew chief in Moto GP. While he will probably retire before I get there I still have the overall ambition to spend at least one season working in the Moto GP paddock.

How did you get involved with the Women’s Engineering Society (WES)?

I joined WES at the end of 2019 to expand my personal and professional network of female engineers, but also to get involved in volunteering and to help increase awareness of women in STEM. I was keen to find out how I could help to reduce the gender imbalance in engineering, so I wanted to join a specific society whose focus is on this topic.

They have been incredibly supportive during the pandemic especially, with lots of great email communication, free webinars and virtual events that they've created to try and reduce members' feelings of isolation.

What advice would you give to others considering an engineering apprenticeship?

I would recommend an apprenticeship as the best route into engineering, as long as you're prepared to work hard. Having your education paid for while earning a good wage and gaining work experience is such a great way of doing it. It has set me up so well for my career. I would take the same route if I were starting out again.

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