Being a Female Chartered Electrical Engineer
Hours: Around 40 per week
Starting salary: Graduate starting salaries are around £26,000. Average salaries for engineers with experience can range from £35,000 to £60,000.
Qualifications required: A degree in Electrical Engineering or Building Services Engineering and Chartership with The Engineering Council.
2017 surveys indicate 11% of the engineering workforce is female. This is a positive change from the 9% in 2015. (reference).
Photo by Anders Jildén
What's it like being an Electrical Engineer?
Fern's bio coming soon!
Job title: Chartered Electrical Engineer
Current employer: Freelance
Industry: Building Services/Construction
Hours: No real average when freelance!
How long have you been practising in this field? 20 years.
In your current role, what do you spend your time doing?
I specialise as an electrical building services engineer, so I usually work on projects alongside mechanical building services engineer. For example, if architects design what buildings look like and structural engineers make the buildings stand up, the building services engineers make the buildings work.
We design all the important bits, such as heating, lighting, air conditioning, power distribution, data networks, renewable energy systems, hot and cold water services, fire alarms, security systems, sprinklers and drainage. We work with the architects and building users to decide what’s required in a new building and how we’re going to fit it all in!
Where are you based for work or which regions do you cover?
I live in Oxfordshire and work freelance but my projects tend usually to be in the southeast of England.
What does a typical day look like?
There is no such thing as a typical day! If I’m in the office I might be speaking to utility companies to determine how much power a building needs and how it will be supplied, or I might be writing a report, or carrying out calculations for lighting or cabling systems. On a recent project for example, I drew the electrical services layouts for the building and advised the architect how much space was required for the plant we were creating. A lot of my work involves ensuring installations are designed within legal regulations.
I spend a lot of time out of the office where I might be meeting architects to discuss designs or surveying existing buildings that are being altered or refurbished. I also visit sites to inspect the systems as they are being installed and answering any queries the installers have on site.
Has anyone ever been surprised when you told them that you were in this role (as someone of your gender)?
Yes, all the time!
Was there anything you liked doing at school that helped you get to this career?
I was an all rounder at school, which actually helps with the job I do. People think I spend all my time doing mathematical calculations, but actually that's only a small part of the role. Good English skills are just as important; I spend a lot of time reading and understanding regulation documents, writing specifications and presenting proposals.
Can you tell us a bit more about your career journey - how did you get to where you are today?
I read Electrical and Electronic Engineering at University. Initially I wanted to go into telecommunications but I didn't end up enjoying the courses on those subjects, however I did discover I was much more interested in power and machines.
When I left university I worked in manufacturing for a bit, but a chance conversation with my cousin’s husband (who was a building services engineer) made me consider that as what he was doing sounded much more interesting. I then successfully secured a place on a graduate training scheme with a firm of consulting engineers.
What were your favourite subjects at school?
Physics and English Literature.
What did you want to be as a child when you 'grew up'?
I don't remember having a particular career in mind, but I was always curious about how things worked, which has a lot to do with engineering.
Can you remember what your parents reactions were to that aspiration?
My Dad was great and gave me lots of encouragement especially at getting to university. He had always worked in engineering fields (though in HR and management not as an engineer) and had always regretted not having the opportunity himself.
Can you remember your parents or teachers wanting or encouraging you to go into a specific career when you 'grew up'?
I remember telling our careers teacher I wanted to be an engineer and them saying "have you thought about business studies?". He didn't think my maths was good enough (he was also my GCSE maths teacher) but my maths ended up improving significantly when I had a different teacher for A-Level.
What do you think are attitudes towards and expectations of women in your profession?
It depends on who you are working with. I have never experienced discrimination from electricians on site or from junior staff, however I have had issues with a couple of managers and would say it seems harder to get promotions than male colleagues.
Are there any challenges or benefits working in your field?
The main benefit is that there is a massive skills shortage so work is usually plentiful. Also I have gained sufficient experience and contacts to build my reputation so I can freelance and work more flexibly.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
There is so much variety. I have worked on so many interesting projects, from hospitals, cathedrals, historic monuments, special needs schools, housing, laboratories - the list is endless.
Also it’s great to finish a project, for example a new school, and realise you have played a part in making something that benefits the community.
What are 3 things you have to like to do your job?
Problem solving abilities, good English skills, good people skills.
What advice would you give to young girls who are aspiring to be in your role, or who maybe haven't even considered it as a career?
Don't let anyone put you off doing what you really want to do - If I had listened to my careers teacher I wouldn't be featuring on this website!
"It’s great to finish a project, for example a new school, and realise you have played a part in making something that benefits the community."
Engineer Girl website: The EngineerGirl website is designed to bring national attention to the exciting opportunities that engineering represents for girls and women.
The Women's Engineering Society: The Women's Engineering Society is a charity and a professional network of women engineers, scientists and technologists offering inspiration, support and professional development.
IET: The IET is one of the world’s largest engineering institutions with over 168,000 members in 150 countries.