Director Claire Jones and apprentice Imogen Parker talk about career paths, working for AECOM and what they love about engineering
I’m not Isambard Kingdom Brunel,” said Claire Jones, who leads a civil engineering design team of 25 from AECOM’s offices in Swindon. “I’m not going to leave a big legacy, but it’s quite nice when you drive around the country and see things you’ve worked on.”
She might downplay her achievements but, in her 29 years as a structural engineer, Claire has worked on a number of major projects that have shaped surrounding communities.
After the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, she designed rugby and football stadiums as they changed from standing to all-seater venues – Bristol Rugby Club’s West Stand Stadium, Swansea’s Liberty Stadium and Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets to name but a few.
Claire has also worked on highways, bridges, hospitals, railway stations and nuclear power stations. Even on a recent trip to Cornwall, she drove over a rather bumpy level crossing that her team is currently working to improve.
Moment of inspiration
It was during her teenage years that Claire was first introduced to engineering.
“I went to an all girls’ school and when I was about 15 a teacher showed the class a video about civil engineering,” she said. “I had family and friends who were civil engineers too and they took me out on sites to a few projects. I knew I really liked maths, I liked solving problems, but I didn’t want a job that involved sitting at a desk all day. I wanted a chance to get outside and thought civil engineering might be quite good.”
And she was right. With the encouragement of friends and family, Claire would lay the foundations for a successful career by studying civil engineering at Portsmouth Polytechnic.
Fast forward to today and Claire now manages a team of technicians, graduates and fellow engineers who work on a multitude of design projects – from station canopies to HS2’s Old Oak Common station enabling works.
“I think civil engineering is such a rewarding career. There are a lot of jobs out there that don’t really change anyone’s lives, but, as engineers, we do,” she added.
For almost her entire career Claire has worked for AECOM, a multinational engineering firm that is keen to improve its gender diversity to create a workforce that better reflects society.
In its rail, bridges and structures division, AECOM employs 906 people, 155 (17 per cent) of which are women.
That representation is slightly higher than the rail industry average for women but AECOM is committed to doing better. For example, at the very top of the business, AECOM is aiming for 20 per cent of its management team in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region to consist of women by 2020.
Turning to new recruits, AECOM understands the importance of early engagement and, as part of its long-term strategy, organises an active outreach programme with its 150 STEM ambassadors.
The company also acknowledges that change is needed internally to ensure women stay in the business once they’re recruited. Flexible working, which is improving productivity, and the creation of a mentoring programme for women, are a part of that solution.
Historically, rail has been a male-dominated industry and it is not an easy challenge to overcome.
“At school, the girls that are good at science are directed towards medicine and things like that, very few in my daughter’s year at school looked at engineering, which is really sad,” lamented Claire.
“Although the industry could do a lot more to promote engineering, it needs to start earlier. AECOM is quite good at trying to get people to be STEM ambassadors, that’s a really good thing we’re doing. It’s just a case of promoting engineering to both girls and boys.”
A key part of AECOM’s wider diversity drive across the business is its early years programme, which is made up of dedicated graduate and apprenticeship programmes.
On these schemes, the use of gender-neutral marketing material and the mandatory inclusion of women on recruitment panels has seen a noticeable shift in the number of women joining the company. In 2018, 43 per cent of its 350 new starters on its graduate development programme were women.
Civil engineering apprentice Imogen Parker, who works out of AECOM’s Nottingham office, was among that cohort in 2018 when she joined the company on a degree apprenticeship after completing her A-Levels.
Similar to Claire, Imogen’s route into engineering was affected by influencers around her.
She said: “I’ve always had an interest in maths and science, so, I thought I’d quite like to go down that route because there is a lot to it and lots of different things you can do under that one title of engineering.
“I know quite a lot of people that went straight to uni and the idea of it didn’t intrigue me. I had a friend that did the apprentice route and he works for Bombardier. He told me about it, and I liked how it works. You get looked after quite well and you are guaranteed a job at the end. I would rather go straight into working than go into education full-time for another few years. So, I just decided to do that.”
She added: “School and college just pushed uni. I went back to my college after not going to uni and they were still trying to tell me I could go to uni. They pushed that so much.
“It was mainly mine and my parents’ research that led me to engineering and AECOM.”
Since joining last year, Imogen has worked across the highways and rail divisions as part of her training, working on track bed and geophysics en route.
She’s only in the first year of the job, but she’s already been identified by rail director Joan Heery as “up and coming”.
She has a bright future ahead of her and, by drawing on a wider talent pool, so does AECOM.