Andrea Roberts – Case Study

Engineering Training Officer, STEGTA

When I left school in the summer of 1990, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career. I knew what I DIDN’T want to do and that was the usual jobs that were being offered to women at the time – retail, beauty therapy, childcare and social work etc. I decided to go to college to do A-levels as I thought that was the best thing to do at the time.

I soon realised that full-time college was not for me. I needed a job and to be earning money. That’s when my Dad (who was a Control Systems Engineer) suggested I try an apprenticeship.

I had watched Dad work from his home workshop since I was a little girl, and helped him bend resistors for his circuit boards which my Mum would then solder into place. I knew the resistor colour code before I could recite the full alphabet! So it seemed a natural progression for me. Plus it was different – and I like to be different.

We looked around for apprenticeships and found one at Ciba in Clayton, Manchester (at the time it was called The Clayton Aniline Company). They were advertising for electrical / instrument technicians and mechanical engineers.

Even though a lot of my friends thought I was crazy applying for a ‘boys’ job, I went for it anyway. I had good grades from my GCSE’s and at that age I had something to prove.

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That’s me (front row – red top) with other apprentices on my first outward bound trip.

I was interviewed by four senior engineers, which was a bit scary at first, but I just behaved like myself and tried to answer all their questions as best I could.
I was totally thrilled to find out I had got one of the electrical positions, and spent the next four years training with the other engineering apprentices there. I was the only female engineer on site, which was kind of cool, but was also a challenge.

My friends thought it was funny that I went out to work every day in overalls and came home in the evenings filthy from a days’ hard graft, but I had the last laugh when it came to pay day. I was earning almost four times they were, and they soon got jealous when I managed to buy my first car after only 10 months at my new job. I could afford nice holidays, clothes and got my hair done at the best salons, while they had to save up for weeks. Plus, while I was earning – I was also learning, and by doing a day release at college as part of my training program, I went on to do a HNC in Electrical / Electronic Engineering by the time I completed my apprenticeship.

Engineering Team Photo at Ciba during my apprenticeship (I’m on the front row far left)

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It was hard work, but it paid the best rewards. I made a lot of friends at work and college, and my workmates soon realised that I could ‘give as good as I got’. I wouldn’t swap those days for anything else and I am really glad that I did an engineering apprenticeship. I learned everything I needed to know in order to support myself both in and out of work.

I’ve learned skills that I have been able to use at home so that I have never needed to call out an engineer or plumber when things have gone wrong. I’ve saved a fortune over the years not having to pay for contactors to come and do work at my house or to service my car – I’ve done it all myself, and there is a lot of personal satisfaction in that.

When I finished my apprenticeship, I started a shift job as a multi-skilled Operator / Engineer where I built up my experience of production and engineering support. I also added to my skills by achieving further NVQ qualifications, this is when I decided to train to be an NVQ Assessor. A lot of the shift workers wanted to be trained but they needed someone on the shift to train them.

Working the night-shift!

Getting more qualifications!

I really enjoy working as a Training Officer now. I get to pass on my knowledge and skills to the next generation of engineers, and after being an apprentice myself, I fully understand what they are all going through during their training and can offer lots of support. It’s a very rewarding job, especially when I get to see my apprentices get their qualifications at the end of their training.

Working as a Training Officer for STEGTA with two of my Electronic Engineering Apprentices and their employer at Console Wizard.
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Being a female in engineering has opened up many doors which would not have been available to me in any other industry. I have really enjoyed my career, right from being an apprentice myself through to training engineers of the future. In all those years though, I have been a minority as I have rarely come across other female engineers and I can’t understand why! So come on girls! There is a world of opportunity out there for you to grab by training as an engineer…. why should the boys have all the fun?

Andrea Roberts – Engineering Training Officer, STEGTA – June 2014