Case study

Engineering management graduate — Laura Dixon

Laura studied for a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of the West of England (UWE) before joining the Bus Engineering graduate scheme at FirstGroup. Discover what it's like to be a maintenance engineer

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

I was determined to show my daughter that with a bit of hard work, she could be anything she wanted. I also wanted to do something for myself when she started secondary school, and engineering seemed so interesting, so why not retrain by completing a degree.

How did you get your job with First Bus?

I applied to the graduate scheme after attending a graduate attraction event where First Bus had a stall. I was drawn to the idea of getting more hands on, rather than working in an office.

What more should be done to increase female representation in engineering?

I believe that it starts young, giving girls in primary school the confidence to explore science and maths. Hands on experiences like tinkering with engines are not often afforded to girls, and this is where a fascination of mechanics could be fostered early on. Girls also need to see more representation of people that look like them in engineering roles.

What's a typical day like?

Maintenance engineering is an incredibly varied role. As a graduate, I've had experience with both the project side, and on the shop floor.

On the shop floor, depending on the role, I supervise mechanics, prioritise work and deal with breakdowns. There are also opportunities to create inspection and maintenance schedules, making sure that the work is spread evenly across the week and checking work for compliance.

Project work is a different aspect of maintenance engineering. I've been able to improve processes within the workshop and create systems to track work. Creating improvements in processes requires research into what the current process looks like, this could mean phone calls or visits to different workshops. It then requires liaising with different departments and experts and creating a plan with the project team to decide next steps.

What qualities do you think are important for a maintenance engineer?

  • People skills really are one of the most important parts of the job. Whether on the shop floor, supervising mechanics, or liaising with subject matter experts on the best way to progress a project, talking to people is a huge part of any role.
  • Another aspect of the role is an interest in learning how things work. As a mechanical engineer at university, they teach you a range of mechanical disciplines. You need a desire to investigate systems, and to understand how they work.
  • Ability to prioritise and think on your feet is also important. This is especially relevant working in a garage, where you may have breakdowns coming in and you need to prioritise work to get the vehicle back on the road as soon as possible.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

I love being given a problem and working out the best way to approach the solution. Then seeing this solution implemented is really satisfying.

What are the challenges?

COVID-19 has been a huge challenge for me. A graduate scheme is about learning all aspects of the business. For some of my scheme I've had to adapt to working from home. This has been a challenge, as it's made it more difficult to develop my network.

However, it's also given me opportunities that I probably wouldn't have had, such as the opportunity to get involved in a company-wide project. I've learned to see every difficulty as an opportunity to try new ways of working and to take on board other learning opportunities. I'm looking forward to my next placements, which will mean getting back onto the shop floor.

As a female in a stereotypically male role, what new perspectives do you bring to your job?

It's universally agreed that a diverse, inclusive workplace fosters new ideas and innovation. As a female in a male-dominated role, I require determination to succeed and this translates to being very systematic in the way that I approach tasks. This means that each task that I do is well considered and as detailed as possible.

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

I'm a new member to WES, but as a student I attended the WES student conference. I gained so much confidence and developed networks that helped me to set up a women’s engineering society at my university.

What are your career ambitions?

I've still got a long way to go in terms of learning the business that I'm in, but I would like to become an engineering director in the future.

What advice can you give to other aspiring females engineers?

Build your networks and talk to people. Above all, you bring something unique to the table - work out what that is and promote yourself within your networks.

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