Becky Hayward, People Flow Consultant, Buro Happold
What is your current job?
As a People Flow Consultant I get to work on a wide range of projects from sports stadiums to large events and festivals. Part of the work is to ensure the safety of people using the buildings and venues, but also to help improve the visitor experience and efficiency
I'm part of a specialist team of consultants, analysts and software developers. The team members come from a wide range of backgrounds and each bring different ideas and skills to the projects.
What do you love about your job?
I love the variety of my work. I can be looking at how to improve the efficiency of processes in a hospital or investigating how design and circulation can affect visitor experience in a museum. I have the opportunity to travel too. Last year I went to Germany to conduct surveys for concert halls to help understand people's behaviour when exiting. I was able to sit in and enjoy a couple of shows while I was there!
I enjoy working with people, getting to understand the challenges they are facing and helping to solve their problems. It is really satisfying to receive positive feedback from a client when they have implemented something we have recommended and can see a real improvement. Being from a maths background I also enjoy the analytical aspect of our work and tackling new problems. There was a steep learning curve initially as I am not from a traditional engineering background, but I have enjoyed trying my hand at lots of different tasks and projects.
Why did you choose a job in engineering?
I didn't! I did a degree in joint honours in Maths and Biology and then took a PhD studying the behaviour of ant colonies. After that I had a short time as a science teacher at a secondary school. I'm quite surprised to find myself in an engineering company - I was drawn to my current job by the problem solving aspect of the work we do and I can apply the skills I learnt at university to real-world problems.
What skills and qualities do you need?
I think good listening skills are really important in our work - be it an architect designing a new school, police wanting crowd flow advice for a large event, or an estates director wanting to know how to run a hospital more efficiently - it is key to really understand what they want to achieve and the challenges they are facing. It is also important to listen to and engage with other people in your team as they often will bring a different perspective and insight that you might not have considered. I use problem solving skills with an analytical and logical approach. It's also important to be creative and not afraid to come up with unusual ideas. I also need to be able to communicate well. We may do some complex analysis but then need to be able to explain our ideas clearly to the clients.
What advice do you have for young women interested in engineering?
Choose a career path that stimulates you and that you find interesting. Research the area you are interested in and keep up to date with cutting edge developments.
Be confident and grab opportunities (big and small) when they arise. Talk to as many people as you can - you never know where the next great idea (or job offer!) will come from. Contact companies you are interested in and see if you can arrange work experience with them - this is such a beneficial experience. If you enjoy it and build a good relationship ask if you can come back as a summer placement student to gain more experience.
When you were at school, what would have helped you prepare for a career in engineering and become more employable?
My passion for science and maths meant I was always keen to do extra science projects or clubs. I remember working out how to determine the impact of meteorites colliding with earth by throwing marbles into a tray of coloured sand and flour.
I also organised my work experience at a physics lab and really enjoyed it - I got to play with a scanning electron microscope and take close-up images of dust mites and microchips. I went back in the summer to work as a placement student to get more experience of working in a lab and part of a team. At school I always took the opportunity to give presentations and attend any training opportunities that came my way. When I was in sixth form I attended a leadership training course which was really useful for developing interview skills.
The change from studying at university and teaching in a school to having a job in industry has been challenging, but it has shown me that I can adapt and develop new skills. Also, I have seen that many skills are transferable across different sectors.