From a very young age I wanted to be an engineer, even after losing my leg to bone cancer at the age of 7. It took me several years, and lots of barriers, but it paid off in the end and today I’m proud to say I’m an Amey traffic signals engineer, as well as a STEM and disability ambassador, meaning I can share my story wherever my career takes me.
STEM is extremely important in the engineering field, and it’s therefore where we need to start if we’re serious about encouraging more females into engineering roles. And we must get serious because all the evidence shows that there aren’t enough young women in the engineering sector at the moment, not to mention disabled young women. The sector has a huge skills gap, which is anticipated to worsen over the next decade due to retirement. So, what can we do about it?
Rather than waiting for someone else to come up with the answer, in July 2019, I decided to take up the baton as an Amey STEM ambassador and get out into schools to talk to young people about the importance of a STEM education, particularly girls who we know are less likely to choose STEM A Levels than boys. According to Engineering UK, 25.4% of girls between the ages of 16 and 18 would consider a career in engineering compared to 51.9% of boys. Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done to get more girls interested in this vital career path.
Today, I had the privilege of attending one such careers event at a school in Chesterfield and after a day of talking with the students, all bristling with excitement and questions, I left feeling such a sense of fulfillment that there and then I had potentially inspired some young people into choosing an engineering career.
It’s so vital that we inspire kids at this tender age: at the age when they are making life-changing decisions about which subjects to take on and which ones to drop. It’s also when they’re at their most impressionable and most at risk of feeling that engineering isn’t for them. For a girl, it might mean the temptation to think engineering is for boys. For someone who is disabled, it might be thinking that a disability is a barrier to engineering. All of this couldn’t be further from the truth and by dispelling these myths, we can start to inspire a new, more diverse generation of engineers. If I can show that it’s possible to become an engineer even with my disability, my hope is that they too can feel they can do anything when they put their mind to it.
Working for Amey was the turning point in my life as I have had amazing opportunities and haven’t felt inhibited due to the inclusive and supportive environment in which I work. The culture of inclusion and the diverse workforce at Amey ensures everyone feels safe and valued. I believe we have to nurture young interest in engineering or indeed any subjects young people are passionate about, but also make them feel welcome once they’ve chosen their path. For this to happen, it’s important that young people have positive role models to encourage them and lead by example.
I recall recently at a STEM event we ran as part of our partnership with Girlguiding UK, I walked into the room of primary school children and the first sentence I expected to hear was ‘She’s only got one leg!’ but was pleasantly surprised when the first sentence I heard was ‘Wow, you’re an engineer?!’ This choked me up. I knew then I needed to become a STEM ambassador to promote how engineering can be such an amazing profession.
I genuinely believe we’re making a difference at Amey, with over 200 STEM Ambassadors who routinely visit schools and colleges across the UK to inspire girls and people from diverse and under-privileged backgrounds to take up a career in engineering. I enjoy giving my time freely to help others and I especially love to make people laugh so they know that engineering can be a fun as well as a technically challenging career path.
If I can have a laugh about myself then others will laugh too! And believe me, there are many stories and jokes to be told! I’ll leave you with one of my favourites: ‘Why did the amputee cross the road? They were hopping to get to the other side!’
…trust me there are many more! Feel free to contact me at Catherine.Cobb@amey.co.uk to hear another one of my jokes, or maybe to talk about a career in engineering!
Also, for more information about diversity and inclusion at Amey, please visit: https://www.amey.co.uk/getting-started/diversity-inclusion/