Rebekah Valero-Lee diversity
Whilst many people wouldn’t necessarily associate engineering with travel, the world is her oyster for Ana Meek, as a career path in chemical engineering has already enabled her to live and work in five different countries by her early thirties.
There are engineering hubs and centres of excellence located around the world and Serbian-born Ana has already worked in Germany, Norway and the UK. Her current role as a chemical process engineer for Morson Projects sees her part of a global team working in partnership to design a new Energy from Waste (EfW) plant in Derby.
“I had no idea what I wanted to be growing up in Belgrade, apart from becoming president of course!” explains Ana. “I chose chemical process engineering because there were so many industries and jobs that it could lead me into, such as working in a lab or being a commercial manager or designing plants in different industries. If I didn’t like something then I could just easily switch into another direction, and it was this flexibility that really appealed to me.”
Working in engineering has given Ana so many exciting opportunities but globetrotting hasn’t been without its challenges.
Ana continues: “I’d moved to Norway with my nine month old baby to start a contract with a new company and the afternoon before I was due to begin, I got a call the client saying that the contract had been put on hold. I was gobsmacked as I’d left a permanent job in Germany and moved to another country for this role. I waited for a while to see if it would start back up again but after a few weeks it wasn’t looking good and I began looking for a new role.”
With a strong technical skillset, it wasn’t long before Ana was snapped up by another firm. Initially working in oil & gas in Germany, Ana had moved to Norway to work in the same sector, but the years that followed saw the oil prices crash and the industry go into decline.
Ana continues: “No one could have predicted this as oil & gas was such a leading sector. I recognised it was a time to change the sector and moved to renewable energy. Luckily I found the new job and started working on Energy from Waste plants. Unfortunately, the company ceased trading after few years, but Morson Projects, who were our design engineers at the time, needed additional support and offered me the chance to develop my role in the UK.”
Fast forward to today and Ana is single-handedly managing multiple global vendors who are working alongside Morson’s design consultancy arm to deliver the new Energy from Waste plant.
This complex role involves coordinating the different design packages to make sure everyone is working to the same, evolving specification. A typical day for Ana includes producing engineering documentation and technical specifications, technical bid analysis, liaising with procurement to price up schemes, as well as managing technical issues and finding solutions to ensure everything is aligned and safe.
Ana continues: “There’s nothing more satisfying than when you get on site and see the real scale of what you’ve been designing. I’m like a proud parent and the project is my baby. It’s been four years since the initial contract was signed and we’re now just at the commissioning stage and the plant start-up will follow in few months’ time.
“This is one of the difficulties in showcasing the appeal of engineering, because a lot of younger people, especially, want to see results straight away. Projects can take years in developing and design and I was actually asked by a primary school pupil why it takes so long when Apple can bring out a new iPhone every year? My answer was that this plant will operate for next 30 years and it is not possible to get the new updated plant next year, which is the case with your iPhone. Projecting a plant is also a much more complicated task as there are more than 40 different packages of equipment involved and a worth of more than £65m – much more expensive than an iPhone.
“I also think that the industry needs to be more aligned to creative thinking. I understand the need for tight government regulations around renewables and waste, but there are few opportunities for people to challenge the norms and really innovate within the sector.
“Despite this, my advice to anyone who is considering engineering would be to go for it. It was absolutely the best decision I ever made in life and if I could do it all over again, I would choose exactly the same career path.”