Sunday 23 June will mark 2019’s International Women in Engineering Day, a global awareness campaign, coordinated by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), to increase the profile of women in engineering worldwide and focus attention on the opportunities available to women in engineering and related industries.
According to Women into Science and Engineering (WISE), 2018 saw a 25% increase in the number of professional women engineers in a sector that grew 8.5% overall. Over the past 5 years, nearly 58,000 women are working as professional engineers - more than double the number there were in 2013.
One engineer within that number is Sarah Valentine, operations manager for the Ground Investigation Division at SOCOTEC. Working her way up from technical control to operations manager for London and the South East, Sarah is keen to encourage and support women who also want to pursue a career in engineering.
How it started
As a graduate from Portsmouth University, I started my career as an assistant engineer at Soil Mechanics when I was 22. When I started my career there were only a handful of women working in the geotechnical industry and one other in my office that had an engineering role.
My career at SOCOTEC began in 2008 in a technical control capacity in the Wokingham office ensuring quality of site work and logging of samples and producing final reports and digital data. In 2013 I was promoted to operations manager for the London and South East area. This role involves the management of the office finances, securing work to meet the budget, recruitment, the health and safety of my team plus the quality and the technical training of my staff for any project they are involved in.
My role is an extremely satisfying one and I am proud to be able to say that I have been involved in the pre-construction phase of some of the country’s most iconic projects such as the A303 Stonehenge Tunnel, the A3 Hindhead Tunnel, the Olympic Park Redevelopment, M25 Widening scheme, DLR Woolwich Arsenal Extension, Crossrail, the Emirates Airline in East London, HS2 and more recently Thames Tideway Tunnel.
However it isn’t without its challenges, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is when the Crossrail project (installations and monitoring) came to an end and I had to see my unit through some years of tough trading. However, I built up a core of great people and grew the unit from there. In 2018 we achieved nearly £6million turnover with some substantial and complicated projects; Thames Tideway being the key one. I now have a team of almost 60 working on a range of projects from office, commercial or industrial building redevelopment sites in London, water utility improvement projects, deep tunnels for electric cables, transport or sewage, port redevelopments as well as motorway improvement schemes.
Through hard work, determination and support, I’ve been able to progress and develop my engineering career and it is important to me to encourage my own people, supporting them in their development.
I have also established, with help from my team, a robust induction and training programme for undergraduates from Portsmouth University’s Engineering Geology & Geotechnics degree. This has required a lot of extra effort but is really rewarding to see undergraduates grow and meet the challenges of starting their careers.
Our Chartership programme is well established and I ensure that those in my team who are pursuing their personal develop get the support and encouragement to progress. We have and need a healthy crop of RoGEP professionals to ensure the quality and professionalism our clients expect.
To me, my most rewarding achievement is to be a part of a senior management team that is very passionate about the quality of service and skill SOCOTEC brings to each of the projects we work on. While I’m not so involved in the day to day running of projects, I’m still heavily involved in ensuring the delivery of those projects are to the highest quality with highly trained and skilled staff. There is nothing better than our clients recognising that and taking the time to tell us we have met their expectations and more.
SOCOTEC encourages staff training, career path development, promotion and more importantly recognition which results in staff having real pride in the projects they work on. More importantly, they really enjoy what they do. I have experienced this career path along with my peers in senior management and I’m now very privileged to be in a position to offer this to the next generation of engineers that join our business.
If you’re looking for an engineering career why not take a look at SOCOTEC’s job vacancies?
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