Case study

Graduate manufacturing engineer — Naomi Richardson

Naomi studied MEng Aeronautical Engineering (with a placement year) at Loughborough University. Discover how she got her job at Rolls-Royce

How did you get your job with Rolls-Royce?

I applied for a year-long engineering internship, which I did an assessment centre for. My internship effectively worked as an extended interview - I was offered a place on their graduate scheme once I completed my degree, so I didn't have to do another assessment centre. I did choose to move from engineering to manufacturing engineering, which required an interview but I did this while I was still working there as an intern.

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

I always enjoyed maths and science at school and liked finding out how things worked. My dad is also an engineer, so I did some work experience. I absolutely loved it and haven't looked back since.

I never really considered that it was a male-dominated industry until I started looking at university options and realised there weren't many girls attending the engineering open days. Even though engineering is noticeably a male-dominated industry, I haven't felt limited by my gender and I still love my career as much as when I first experienced engineering.

What's a typical day like as a manufacturing engineer?

I start my day checking emails and preparing for meetings. From there I normally spend some time on the shop floor, for example processing or testing parts. This is something I really enjoy, as I don't like being sat at a desk all day.

My job involves taking an engineer's designs and turning them into reality - this means I'll look at designs and read technical reports and figure out how we can make that part. This requires lots of research into new manufacturing techniques, and collaboration with both the design engineers and the operations team who manufacture and assemble the parts, so a large portion of my day is spent researching and discussing ideas with other people.

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

There has been a lot of progress on female representation in engineering and I think most companies are now focusing on diversity and inclusion. However, I think the focus now needs to be on encouraging younger students to see the potential of STEM careers - by the end of primary school most girls have already decided on a path away from STEM. We need to show how varied a career in engineering is to primary aged children, as most people assume that an engineer fixes things, which puts a lot of girls off.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Seeing a successful result in the project you are working on is one of the most satisfying things, particularly when you can see how wide reaching the benefits can be. The development of a successful new manufacturing technique can revolutionise the design of engine parts that haven't really changed in decades.

What are the challenges?

It can be frustrating when things don't work the first time you try them, especially when you think you've found the perfect solution. You just have to dust yourself off and try looking at it from a different angle, but in the moment it can feel like a huge disappointment.

What qualities are important for a manufacturing engineer?

Manufacturing engineers need to be inquisitive and think outside the box - most of your work is problem solving, so you need to ask the right questions to understand the situation before even attempting to create a solution.

How is your degree relevant to your job?

My engineering degree gave me a better understanding of where the parts I'm helping to produce are used in a jet engine and how the part should work, which allows me to better understand why the part has been designed the way it has.

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

There was a WES student group at my university, so I started attending events in my first year, before becoming chair of Loughborough University WES in my final year.

WES offer so many networking opportunities, which are essential at the start of your career. They also offer the opportunity to become a STEM Ambassador, which I really enjoyed. However, I think socialising with other female engineers was one of the most beneficial things as I got to meet so many like-minded young women.

What are your career ambitions?

At the moment I don't have a particular career aspiration, other than to end up in a leadership role of some sort, as I enjoy leading teams. I'm currently very open to try a range of roles within my graduate scheme, so I have a better understanding of what my options are. From there I can understand where I would like to be in the future.

Tell us about three issues affecting manufacturing engineering today.

  • Sustainability is a major issue globally, but also in manufacturing engineering. Previously there was much less consideration for the full life cycle of parts produced, whereas now we don't only think about how the part is used, we consider how the part can be disposed of at the end of its life, which may influence how we manufacture the part and what materials we use. The UK has committed to net zero emissions, putting a strict deadline on engineering companies improving their manufacturing techniques and products as a whole.
  • Industry 4.0 is one of the main changes in manufacturing at the moment, focusing on automation, robotics, connectivity and artificial intelligence. While these are technological developments, there is still some distrust of the unknown when compared to familiar trusted methods of manufacturing.
  • There is also a skill shortage of engineers in the UK, particularly in manufacturing. This means that UK engineering companies are limited in how much growth and innovation they can create for their products.

What advice would you give to other aspiring manufacturing engineers?

Look out for opportunities as any chance to gain experience is beneficial - even if you don't enjoy it, you've discovered what you don't like and will know not to look for a role doing that in the future.

Also start developing your professional networks as soon as possible - this was something I was told in my first year of university but didn't really appreciate. Having developed my networks more in the last few years, I have gained opportunities that I never would have known about if it weren't for my network sharing them.

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