Ann Marshall, project manager at Arco Professional Safety Services

23rd Jun

As we celebrate the ninth International Women in Engineering Day this year, we take a look at the role of female engineers in the world of health and safety.

BusinessWorks caught up with Ann Marshall, project manager at Arco Professional Safety Services, to talk about her career and how she is encouraging more young women and girls to take up engineering as a career.

Q. Could you tell us a little about your background and how you got into engineering?

Growing up, my parents were a big influence on me. My dad is a retired electrical engineer and my mum qualified as a nurse, so both were very practical with a ‘can-do’ attitude, I was encouraged to think outside the box. At school, I enjoyed science and maths but didn’t know exactly how I could apply this, so, when it came to choosing a degree course, I chose one which would allow be to be very hands on and qualified from Staffordshire University with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Q. What was you first job after you graduated?

My first job doesn’t sound very glamorous, as I started as an engineer specialising in sewage treatment! But, within three weeks of starting, I was out on site with my boss, a big A1 plan in my hands, a hard hat and a tape measure and I knew straight away that engineering was the right career for me. I love the satisfaction of doing a job that makes things happen from start to finish including all the problem solving in-between.

Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Making things happen from start to finish and having input at every stage of the process to provide a solution. I get great job satisfaction from being part of a professional and supportive team. From our technical director through to other project managers, department managers and support staff, we all work together as one team and deliver a great service to our customers as a result.

Q. As your career has progressed, have you had any specific challenges as a woman in engineering?

To be honest with you, most people I have worked with have been very open and encouraging, particularly in my current role at Arco, where I am treated no differently from my male colleagues and am actively encouraged and supported to progress in my role, as a consequence I have been a registered Chartered Engineer since 2017. I have found that there are times when you have to be a bit more forthcoming as a woman to make sure you are heard but my managers have always encouraged me to do this and supported me. I do have experiences of people asking to talk to a colleague because they expect to speak to a man and I have had someone hang up the phone when he heard a woman’s voice but those are isolated incidents. I would always encourage dialogue about the topic at hand first and those involved usually quickly understand they are talking first and foremost with an engineer. I’d also encourage woman starting in their engineering career to ensure that the jobs they are given are part of an engineers’ role and not ‘admin’!

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Q. You mention your role at Arco, could you explain what you do and how your engineering expertise is important to this role?

I’m a project manager at Arco Professional Safety Services. Our core purpose is to keep people safe at work and we provide training, consultancy and equipment to protect people and their businesses. We are focused on high-risk operations where reliable safety equipment and training is critical. To give you an example, a facilities management company or a building owner might come to us to provide a programme and recommendations on how they maintain the building safely. This could be either because they are taking over a new building or there has been a failed safety inspection and they need to put things right. We will make a full assessment of the needs for managing the building and develop a proposal with recommendations on how to carry out all the necessary tasks that minimises the risk of accidents in the most cost-effective way for the client. I will undertake everything from concept to completion, with five or six jobs on the go (currently I have 12!) at any one time. These jobs can range from recommending simple solutions, to £150,000 worth of installation.

Q. Could you tell us a bit about your STEM Ambassador volunteering and how you are sharing your experiences with the next generation of women engineers?

I’ve had a brilliant experience as a woman in engineering and would love to encourage other young women to think about a career in engineering, especially because engineering is so fundamental to the way the world works. When my daughters were at primary school and their teacher found out that I was an engineer, she asked me to come in and talk to the children about what I did, so I went into school with my kitbag and all my PPE. I showed them what all my equipment was for and how it is used. I talked about the PPE we need to stay safe when doing our jobs and showed them pictures of my colleagues abseiling and doing inspections. This was so well received, and the children loved learning about different aspects of the job, getting a great deal of enjoyment from jumping on my safety boots to test whether they really would protect their feet, to seeing photos of bridges that don’t join in the middle with holes at each side because the maths hasn’t been worked out properly.

The success of this visit led to me taking part in Arco’s community programme, and regularly providing STEM sessions in schools. This has primarily been with younger audiences – two-11 years – but I am also developing a programme for 12-18-year-olds. The important thing is to show how exciting engineering is and how it affects every aspect of our daily lives and how critical it is in safety. At the end of the day, I’m using my engineering skills to keep people safe – what could be more rewarding!

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