To mark International Women in Engineering Day on June 23rd, we spoke to Emma Farrell about her role as a Quality, Safety and Assurance Engineer with AirTanker and what inspired her to pursue an engineering career.
Tell us a bit about your role
I work in the Compliance department. Part of our role is to carry out audits to make sure that the business complies with regulations covering Part 145 and Part M. These are the rules that govern how aircraft are maintained and how we ensure they are airworthy. I joined AirTanker in July 2013 working in Tech Records and moved into my current position in April 2014. When did you first become interested in a career in engineering?
From a very early age! My parents met in the RAF and I have twin brothers who both joined the RAF in different roles. That family connection definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities. I remember being about five years old and attending a graduation event for one of my brothers.
I’m lucky in that I decided early on that I wanted to pursue an engineering career. It gave me a focus when I was studying at secondary school. My maths teacher at the time told me I couldn’t be an engineer because I wasn’t ‘mechanically minded’, but that just spurred me on even more.
What training did you undertake?
I applied for apprenticeships with BA and Virgin Atlantic, but I missed the application deadline. Virgin wrote back to me though with some useful advice on other options. From there I went to college and completed a two-year BTEC course in aeronautical engineering.
That gave me some great hands-on experience and I managed to get a placement with BAE Aviation Services at Filton in Bristol. They offered me an apprenticeship opportunity, which I completed in three years instead of the normal four because of my BTEC qualification.
"At the time women were certainly in the minority. I recall that three girls started the course and I was the only one to finish it. Completing the apprenticeship meant that I gained my B1 licence, which I still maintain today."
Do you sense that
attitudes have changed over the years?
Without question. At the start of my career I faced some negative attitudes and I felt that I had to work harder than other people just to prove I could do the job. I learned how to stand up for myself. Today, there is far greater acceptance that women are every bit as capable of being a good engineer. We need to open more girls’ eyes to this fact!
What do you love most about your engineering career?
I think for me, it’s that I’ve achieved the goals that I had from a very early age. I love being hands-on with the aircraft. Seeing it take off and knowing that you have played a part in making sure it is properly maintained and safe to fly is very rewarding.
With regards to my current role, whilst office based I am still involved with the maintenance of the aircraft through audits, our company authorisation process which allows our engineers to issue a certificate of release to service, through to carrying out documentation checks of the aircraft records to ensure continuous airworthiness of the aircraft.
Finally, what advice would you give to girls who are considering a future in engineering?
Follow your heart. If you have the passion and drive, there is no reason whatsoever why you can’t make it happen. STEM subjects like maths and the sciences help, but it’s also about having the right mind-set and being committed to what you want to do. There are different routes available into the industry too. I chose the apprenticeship route, other people I know have studied at A-Level and pursued a degree before becoming engineers.