Technical Officer Transportation

Emma Thomson

Job title:
Technical Officer Transportation

South Ayrshire Council

Can you tell us a bit about how you came to be in the job you are currently in?

I have worked in the public sector since leaving college; my first position was a temporary contract working on site at the M74 extension between Maryville and Fullerton. I then gained a permanent post with Strathclyde Regional Council and have moved between several different local authorities and also different departments within the Roads Department; traffic, design and now transportation.

What attracted you to this area of work?

The subjects I excelled in at school were Mathematics, Physics and English and I was interested in structures, especially bridges, so I suppose I decided to study civil engineering based purely on those reasons. I qualified with an HND in Civil Engineering and after spending a summer working at Sizewell B nuclear power station as a concrete technician I was attracted to working on site.

In what ways were you encouraged or discouraged to pursue your chosen career? Please explain further.

I would not have chosen to do Physics but a Head Teacher, who had briefly taught me in English, was concerned I was making lazy choices and being influenced by peers to do subjects that wouldn’t challenge me. He insisted I do both Physics & Chemistry (Instead of biology & art which I had chosen). I felt picked on and aggrieved at the time but I now know he saw that I was wasting my education & was actually trying to help! I didn’t enjoy Chemistry & I dropped out of the subject but found that I enjoyed Physics & gained high marks, I wouldn’t even have considered this subject if it hadn’t been for Mr Reid.

It would have been a colossal waste of my school years to have studied art as I do not have an artistic bone in my body but I can now produce detailed drawings with a drawing software package something I would never have been able to do without studying Mathematics or Engineering.

Did you encounter any barriers trying to pursue your chosen career along the way?

The main barrier I have come up against is the qualification barrier, not being chartered curbed my progression but if I had really wanted to become chartered it is something I could have done and through one of various institutes I could even do it now if I felt strongly enough that I wanted to progress further.

What subjects did you study at school/college/university?

I studied Mathematics, English, Physics, Geography; Engineering Science & French at school then HND in Civil Engineering at Glasgow College (now Caledonian University) also have a diploma in field archaeology & have taken night classes in Spanish for 3 years at Paisley University.

What attracted you to taking those subjects?

I realised quickly (after my initial reluctance!) that Mathematics, Physics and English were the subjects that I enjoyed best so when I decided I wanted to be an Engineer I studied Engineering Science in 5th & 6th year at school.

I then decided to do a course in Field Archaeology about 10 years ago as it involved surveying, structures and essay reports, I felt it encapsulated a lot of different topics I had an interest in but was quite different from Engineering. It was a subject matter I wasn’t really aware of when I was at school as I had no interest in History at that time but if I had received better careers advice at school it may have been another subject I would have found attractive and may have influenced my choice of subjects.

What advice would you give to other girls and young women who are thinking of pursuing the same career as you?

I think if women are considering a career in Civil Engineering they should try & get the best qualification they can before starting work, I decided to leave college and get a job but if I had gone onto University and become chartered there would have been greater opportunities to progress and it would have given me a much wider choice of positions to chose from, in both the public and private sector. Many consultants have offices worldwide and there are great opportunities to travel and work on large, interesting projects.

There is immense satisfaction in carrying out a project from conception to completion, finding a design solution to a problem and being able to say I built that is a brilliant feeling.

Finally, in general why do you think less girls and young women study science, engineering and technology subjects?

Probably because it isn’t particularly feminine and young people are under a lot of peer pressure to conform. If I didn’t have a thing about bridges when I was young and had decided I wanted to be an Engineer I am not sure I would have received the correct guidance to help me make an informed decision, this is pretty crucial. I was very single-minded and in that respect was lucky. I don’t know what career advice is like today but I suppose it has a lot to do with how jobs and careers in these fields are presented to young women. I knew what I wanted to do, but if I didn’t I am not sure if I would have received enough information on the type of careers that would make the best of my abilities.

Any further information?

I think Engineering was a good choice for me because I am technically minded and I like to be left to my own devices to work on schemes and although part of a team I enjoy that my work is generally solitary. I think it is important that careers advice should take account of not only what a person may excel at but what suits their personality.

 Technical Officer Transportation