Women in Engineering Week - Interview with Lisa Webster, Project Manager - CAN Ltd

As part of Women in Engineering Day, Elevation Recruitment Group brings you a series of interviews, published over the week. Our interviewees are women working in the engineering sector, in various roles and industries across the Yorkshire region.

Our second interviewee is Lisa Webster, Structures Project Manager at CAN Ltd. Lisa is an experienced Project Manager within the construction industry and a Prince2 practitioner. Over her career, Lisa has successfully managed construction projects in excess of £1.5 million, won the IMechE Speak out for Engineering Competition in 2017 and subsequently joined the judging panel the following year.

In this interview Lisa shares her career journey, what initially attracted her to the engineering industry, her greatest achievements to date and her thoughts on whether more needs to be done in education settings to engage young women into the engineering sector.

 

Interview with Lisa

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What initially attracted you to a career in Engineering?

At school I always really enjoyed maths and physics, and it was those subjects that made me think about a career in engineering. When I started studying Engineering at university, I learned how the industry made an impact in people’s lives, perhaps even in a subtle way and without people realising, and I fell in love with that concept.

Can you tell us more about your engineering education and the career progression that has led to your current position?

During my final years at school, I attended a course called ‘Headstart’ where I spent a week at a university and sampled different engineering sectors. I also undertook various work experience placements and thoroughly enjoyed learning about the industry from different perspectives. After I completed my A-levels, I went on to study Mechanical Engineering at Brunel University and then at the University of Hull. During university, I applied for a sponsorship with a world-renowned manufacturing company. I was lucky enough to be selected and given the opportunity to work as an intern for them. After gaining experience in various industries, I knew I wanted to work within the construction sector, so I began applying for roles.

I started my career as a Graduate Design Engineer within a mechanical engineering department in a construction company. Following the exposure to the various responsibilities, I realised that I enjoyed more of the dynamic aspects, a hands-on approach and liaisons with clients. So, I joined a structural movement business as a Project Engineer. In that role I was given the opportunity to still use my skills as a Design Engineer but also take a project from concept to completion, and I got a great deal of satisfaction from that.

I then successfully applied for my current role as Structures Project Manager at CAN Ltd. As my career has progressed, I have and continue to be responsible for running effective on-site projects supporting quality control, problem solving, specifications, sourcing suppliers and working with various in-house teams and third-party contractors.

What specifically attracted you to your position as Structures Project Manager at CAN Ltd?

The role allowed me to use the skills I had already acquired whilst continuing to develop new ones. Having met with the management team during the interview stages, I understood that the role was extremely varied, in terms of working with different people across various sectors. It also enabled me to manage various scale projects which was exactly what I was looking for.

Since joining CAN Ltd, I have obtained my Level 2 & 3 City and Guilds Qualification in High Risk and Emergency Rescue and Recovery of Casualties from Confined Spaces. This is something I thoroughly enjoyed, and I hope to take further. I want to continue expanding my skills and remain invested in my personal development.

Can you tell us more about winning the IMechE Speak out for Engineering Competition in 2017 and what that entailed? Additionally, what did you enjoy about being on the judging panel the following year and how did that come about?

The competition was an amazing experience. I designed a concept and presented it to peers in the engineering industry. I used my university dissertation, which was a navigational device for the visually impaired and blind. The headset had built-in sensors around the forehead that corresponded accordingly with vibration sensors at the nape of the neck using a wearable Arduino. I particularly enjoyed that I could combine my interest in dress making into my project by sourcing conductive material to connect the components by sewing them together. The headset was an alternative to a low-level indicator and was designed to create an immersive feel of the environment, providing low to high level vibrations of an obstacle to the user's head position. I met some incredible people during the competition, and I was thrilled my presentation was chosen as the Yorkshire regional winner.

After remaining in contact with those who ran the competition and who were part of the IMechE society, I was invited to sit on the judging panel a year later, as their previous winner. It was great to be on the other side and listen to other people’s fantastic ideas.

I would recommend the competition to anyone in the industry, it was a great experience to take part in.

What do you enjoy most about your role in Engineering?

I like the variety, problem solving and making a difference. On a daily basis I am looking at how we can improve our operation, technically, contractually and cost effectively.

I am passionate about structures and mainly bridges! It is a great sense of achievement seeing a completed project and saying, ‘we did this’’.

I get the chance to work on some incredible projects and visit places not accessible to the public – my most memorable being Tower Bridge in London.

What has been your biggest learning curve/ challenge in your career?

I would say finding my place as a woman in engineering has been my biggest challenge, finding where you are respected and taken seriously.

When I was younger and worked within engineering teams, I would be very aware that I was the only female, but as I have gained more experience, it does not bother me so much. When I work on site, I am surrounded by a predominantly male team, but I am treated equally, and we work collaboratively and respectfully.

What has been your biggest achievement in your engineering career to date?

I was project managing the inspection and remedials of the bearings on the west route of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in London, which was a high value project that took over a year to complete. It was a very diverse and exciting project to programme. It included a lot of liaising with third parties to strategise access and egress routes without disruption, allowing the flexibility to be reactive dependent upon requirement. I was able to challenge myself in project management and gain experience reviewing and amending contracts / technical specifications, organising traffic management or local council engagement, controlling the budget to remain cost effective whilst still ensuring a quality output with minimal disruption to the public, and sometimes acting as site manager.

As a woman in Engineering, do you have any role models that you look to inside your field and why?

I credit my teachers at school, and lecturers at university as my inspiration. They were extremely supportive and made me feel as though I could achieve anything.

What do you think are the main qualities you need to succeed in an engineering role and the industry as a whole?

To have confidence in your own abilities and to not be afraid to ask questions.

Take time to understand the processes and the science behind it, that way you can do your job properly and can educate others. It also gives you an opportunity to find alternative solutions if you are faced with a problem or need a more efficient means of working.

Do you think there is more that needs to be done in education to engage young women into engineering subjects?

I would say yes. However, I remember in my school I was very fortunate, we had career days and ‘life after school’ assemblies, and they encouraged you to become anything you set your mind to.

When I went to university, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do within Engineering because I didn’t have my heart set on a specific industry, and it was a worry for me. I think being taught the variety of careers in engineering would have helped me so much and many others that are considering engineering, or even those that have not thought about engineering at all.

What is the most important advice you would give to women who are interested in starting a career in engineering?

Do it! If you do not have a set career in mind within engineering, do not worry too much just pursue what you love and have a passion for – you will find your place. Reach out for opportunities, connect with people, ask for work experience, get involved with societies, activities – experience as much as you can and do not be afraid to try.

It is a very inclusive industry and there is so much opportunity.

For more information on this interview or to discuss how we can help you in your engineering and manufacturing recruitment requirements, please contact John Bohan on 07985 151 131 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

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