WiE | Become an engineer and change the world

Rebekah Valero-Lee diversity



Emma Chapman works as a Building Services engineer for leading real estate firm CBRE in Manchester, UK. She started her career as an apprentice at the engineering design company, Morson Projects, in 2007 and now enjoys a career that takes her all over the world, and remains as fun today as it was eight years ago.

Words: Jennifer Morris

Hi Emma, what can you tell readers about your role?

Well, I am an engineer for CBRE; we look after the lifecycle of a building – the lights, the air conditioning, the water, basically anything and everything that moves or is switched on! I am always working on different buildings and come across problems every day. My job is to find those problems, understand why they are happening, and then find a solution. My working day can see me behind a design desk, or on a building site – it is very varied.

It sounds as though no two days are the same!

That’s right; CBRE has its hub in Manchester and I am there for about two or three day a week at the moment. The rest of the time I am out on site, travelling all over the world. CBRE has been amazing – my whole career has been pretty great actually – I have managed to travel extensively as an engineer. Last year I went to Switzerland, France, Spain, South Africa, Dublin and Belfast in just 12 months. I don’t think most people realise what opportunities there are in engineering – you don’t have to be stuck in an office all day, or on site 24/7, you can travel the world and see some amazing places.

You are pretty early on in your career aren’t you?

Yes and no – I came into the industry at a young age because I chose to take the apprenticeship route. But that also means that I have eight years’ experience behind me now. I was lucky to secure a summer work experience placement at Morson Projects, from there I was offered an opportunity to become an engineering apprentice. I jumped at the chance, and loved learning on the job. I had to achieve a B or above in my science GCSE to be accepted, so I worked hard and got an A! I had always been interested in physics, science and chemistry and I soon realised that engineering involved those elements. Prior to that I thought engineering meant being covered in engine oil and being scruffy and dirty all the time – and I’d like to think I’m pretty smart!

I have done quite a lot for 24, I push myself a lot. I am competitive which is a good character trait in this industry. It is male dominated and everyone is competitive, so you always want to do that bit more and beat the boys! I can’t help myself, it’s good fun.

Had you always planned to work in engineering?

I never thought of engineering as a career. Not a lot of people understand what engineering is – you can be designing aeroplane radar systems and submarines to designing a little tiny house or fixing a ship. It is such a broad industry that people look at it and just get scared.

You have worked in the industry for nearly a decade. In your opinion has the industry changed much regarding women in engineering?

Yes I think it has. When I first started my Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) there was just one other girl on the course who subsequently dropped out soon after. When I started my degree (BSc in Building Services engineering) however, there were eight girls on the course making up 10% of the overall numbers. It may not sound like much but it was an improvement. It does feel as though more women are entering the industry, slowly but surely. I always had strong mentors and that helped me understand the industry and feel confident in a male dominated environment.

There are a lot more women in engineering now, and there are a lot of networks in the UK and globally that support women in engineering. I think it’s about 12% of engineers are women; you will see us dotted around, we are there, and we want to get bigger and bigger. At CBRE 30% of the workforce is female and in a ‘boy’s industry’, which is impressive, so we’re getting there.

I don’t think many girls see just how creative you can be as an engineer, how you can make buildings look different and how you can make people feel differently just because of the lighting! And that is engineering –– everything around us, at some point, has been engineered.

And why wouldn’t you want to do that? Why wouldn’t you want to change the world?