Sophie was only one of a handful of females on her engineering course at university - but that only increased her desire to succeed as an engineer. Find out why Sophie loves working in an industry providing vital services, how she wants to be an inspiration for women in engineering and why she wants to banish some myths.
Sophie Russell, Design Engineer, ScottishPower
What do you do and where do you do it?
It's an industry where you come to work, do something different every single day and have to constantly innovate. I work in design on housing sites and big city centre developments, so I need commercial awareness because I'm dealing with developers all the time. I also need to be on top of costs because I have to quote for the work I do. I love coming to work — and that's not something many people can say.
Why is your role important?
I think it's great to work in an industry which provides vital services. The world wouldn't keep turning without electricity — so what I do is important. It's also an ever-changing, fast-paced industry and it's exciting to be a part of that.
What made you decide to become an engineer?
I went to an all-girls' school in Liverpool, was good at maths and chose physics at A-Level. I'd been nominated by my physics teacher to go a STEM careers event — and, when I went, I found out about electrical engineering at The University of Liverpool. I applied because I liked the sound of engineering's practical applications.
When I began my engineering degree, I wasn't surprised to be in the minority. In terms of new students, I think there were five females. This was not much of a problem though, as at University there was a very inclusive atmosphere and I was treated no differently than anyone else during our lectures.
I made a great group of male friends from my course which was unexpected, as I had mostly female friends from school. My time at University and the people I met there has not only made a huge impact on my professional life but also personally for me, as next year I am getting married to one of the boys who made great efforts to make me feel included!
I wanted to find a role where I could continue to live on Merseyside – I grew up there and did my degree at Liverpool. There are opportunity to work in the energy and utilities sector nationwide. I work for a utility which is an essential service for modern day life, society is totally dependent on electricity. I joined ScottishPower Energy Networks which is responsible for owning and maintaining the power lines and substations that distribute electricity from power stations to homes and businesses.
“It's an industry where you come to work, do something different every single day and have to constantly innovate.”
What do you think of the career prospects? Have you had much training and development?
There's a massive skills shortage in the industry. We have a lot of engineers coming to retirement age, but there just aren't the people coming through to replace them. That might sound like a huge pressure: but, actually, it means there's massive opportunity in this sector at the moment. It's a good time to think about a job in engineering.
My placement was part of an overall strategy within ScottishPower to address the skills shortage currently affecting the whole industry. I spent 6 months with a colleague who was due to retire, learning valuable new skills and experience and have now taken over that person's normal workload We need more women in the industry to help bridge the skills gap. Men and women have different capabilities, so gender balance is beneficial to any team.
Not many young women recognise the opportunities this sector can provide. For example, the pay, career progression and training is really good. I've had technical training, communications training and leadership training; plus training in building relationships, decision-making and customer service. I've even had self-development training
Would you recommend your job to a friend and why?
We need to bust some myths about the industry. When I was at school and I told people I was going to university to train to be an electrical engineer, they said: 'Why? Are you going to be the person who comes to check the washing machine, then?' That's what people think of when they think of an engineer. But it's not like that at all. My role involves helping manage the network in the Merseyside area, carrying out analysis. There's a massive industry behind me, and no two engineers are the same. A mechanical engineer is totally different to an electrical engineer, who is totally different to a civil engineer.
Who should consider a job in the energy and utilities sector?
To work in this industry you need to enjoy learning because it's so fast-moving. But the main things you'll need, I think, are a positive outlook, a love of problem-solving — and a desire to change the world.