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Investing in Our Future | Women in Engineering

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Rebekah Valero-Lee diversity

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Andrea Smith is a senior project manager at London Underground (LU)  and is responsible for all of the deep Tube track renewals across London’s iconic underground rail infrastructure. Andrea oversees all six of the deep Tube tunnels, which include the Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines. Andrea took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about opportunities for women in engineering today. This year London Underground and Transport for London are celebrating the roles of women in the industry as they mark 100 Years of Women in Transport.

Words: Jennifer Morris

Hi Andrea – can you tell me a bit about your job; what is a typical day’s work for you?

I manage the deep Tube track renewals, replacing track within the deep Tube tunnels across London.

I have a team of about 60 people throughout the day, but then we have got around 700 people out on the network every night. I occasionally go out on nights – it’s interesting, it’s nice to see the work going on and make sure everything is running smoothly.

Can you talk me through your career?

I joined LU in 1992 as a Quality Assurance Manager. I have worked my way up over the years, both within LU and working for contracting organisations working on the Underground. I have wanted to become an engineer since I was in school. I enjoyed chemical engineering, technical drawing and subjects like that. From the age of 14, I knew it was my career path.

Did you learn about engineering at school?

My careers teacher was also my engineering teacher, so he was always very keen to support me in any way that he could. I was the only girl in the class – for example in the chemical engineering, carpentry, technical drawing, and sciences courses I needed to do for my engineering degree, I was the only woman! That said, there has been a visible increase in female engineers. I was lucky enough to get onto a women-only scholarship with the Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB). They took on 15 women engineers to do the electrical electronic engineering course.

Why would you recommend a career in the engineering industry?

It is a great challenge. It can be difficult to win people’s respect as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated environment, but the rewards are worth it. It helps to be a strong character to be able to get your point across and to get people to listen to you. You work hard, it’s a challenging environment, but the rewards are great.

What is it that you like most about the work you’re doing today?

No day is the same – every day is different. There is the opportunity to improve things all the time, come up with ideas on how to do things differently.

Could more be done to promote engineering as a credible career choice for women?

There needs to be more promotion in schools from an early age. I think a lot of the promotion in schools happens when most people have already chosen their subjects, when it’s too late. More needs to be done to promote engineering at schools before students start choosing their subjects. I also think there could be more specialist schools that take positive action to promote a career in engineering. There is a marked improvement in growth of women in engineering but it needs to be better than it is. We need to get more women on board.

The STEM skills shortage issue is widely reported – do you feel the impact of that in your sector?

In general – yes.   In the past, I don’t feel apprenticeships and training were promoted as much as they could have been. If you’re not going to invest in the engineers of tomorrow then you’re going to have a shortfall. In the last few years, apprenticeships are back on track, they’re a very good foundation. I think apprenticeships are the biggest thing that companies have to invest in.

Describe your job in three words:

Interesting, challenging, varied.