Brigid Taylor, Environmental Consultant, Buro Happold
What is your current job?
My job is to look at all the possible environmental impacts that a project could cause. I get involved right at the start, when the owner of land is trying to get permission to build a new development. There are discussions with official bodies such as Natural England, the Environment Agency and local councils to discuss possible ways to minimise the effects identified by our team, then this is all put together in a report. I collaborate with many other companies who go out to assess the land which is going to be re-developed. They look at animals on site, noise, air quality, contamination, archaeology and other things. I am mostly based in the office, and review the reports that these companies produce.
What do you love about your job?
I get to meet and work with a lot of fun and interesting people, there is nice mix of some days in the office, some days out at meetings, and some days visiting the sites that we are working on. I am helping to make sure we preserve our natural environment and am always learning something new and developing my skills, which keeps me interested. I never have the chance to get bored as I am always busy, and there's always a next step on the ladder for my career.
Why did you choose a job in engineering?
I was always interested in biology and natural sciences and liked the idea of being part of projects that you hear about in the newspapers. I'm from New Zealand and had a great time studying at university there for five years, gaining two degrees, one in Science and another in Law.
Then I worked for ten years as an environmental lawyer (six in New Zealand and four in the UK). The work was very challenging, especially at the start when I was new and everyone was very busy and didn't have a lot of time to explain things. I needed to take control of my own learning and find people who could act as mentors and help me to develop my skills. The good thing about being challenged is you learn very quickly and a lot of opportunities come your way.
I have worked for a number of different companies. My skills have always been in demand and I have never struggled to find enjoyable and well-paid work, even in the recession. Working for an engineering firm means I get to help shape the world that we live in and can see the results of my work all around.
What skills and qualities do you need?
Problem solving, finding ways to resolve issues and answers to tricky questions is very important. Also research skills, to find out about an environmental issue, or the relevant rules of what is and is not allowed, or possible ways of resolving problems.
Communication is also very important. I have to talk with a lot of people and ensure that technical reports can be understood by all types of people.
I need to be very organised in planning my days, weeks and managing my projects, which often run for around one year. I need to manage the budget to make sure we don't overspend and make sure all the different people involved in a project are talking to each other and aware of what each other is doing.
What advice do you have for young women interested in engineering?
There are lots of different roles available in the engineering world so try to speak to as many people as you can about what they do and what's involved in their job. Try to match your interests to a career path as you spend a lot of hours at work, so you need to enjoy what you do!
I'd advise you to work hard in your 20s to get as far as you can in your career. Once you start a family it can be harder to balance everything, and it helps if you have worked your way up and developed good skills and experience, this will empower you with more flexible options if you decide to have a family.
When you were at school, what would have helped you prepare for a career in engineering and become more employable?
When deciding what to do, work experience or volunteering is useful to gain valuable experience. Meet as many people as possible (parents' friends are useful) and ask them about their jobs and careers and which school subjects have proven useful to them.
Extra-curricular activities, such as sports, are all helpful in developing your confidence. Being able to get along with other people is one of the key skills in the workplace and will make you stand out in an interview. The person with the best grades will not necessarily be the best person for a job - companies want to employ the candidate with good 'people skills' who will be a member of the team. In a job don't be afraid to ask lots of questions: you won't be expected to know everything as soon as you start and will continue to learn the whole way through your career.
It's important to choose a career that will keep you interested and challenged, as you may be working for 50 years! These days a lot of people change jobs and careers throughout their life, as I have done, and all of the skills that you pick up along the way help to make you unique and employable.
When you are young, a desk job often sounds boring, but as you get older, you can be quite thankful to be nice and warm inside at a desk instead of outside in the rain!