This #INWED2022 we’re celebrating some of the inspirational female engineers working for us and helping to build a brighter future. Meet Anna Jackson
: our Principal Engineering Manager
for the Competency Centres at EDF Renewables. She told us a bit about her engineering career and how the threat of climate change drives her in her latest role.
This interview is also available to listen to:
Q. What type of engineer are you?
A. By background, I’m a mechanical engineer. But in my current job, I’ve moved away from working purely on mechanical engineering into engineering leadership, managing a few different engineering disciplines.
Q. What does your current role involve?
A. As Principal Engineering Manager for the Competency Centres, I look after our central engineering hub at EDF Renewables. We provide the required engineering support, to all parts of the business, to enable the delivery and operation of renewable technologies across the entire lifecycle and portfolio. This includes onshore wind, offshore wind, battery, solar and hydrogen. We also support delivery of business pillar objectives and play a key role in developing/maintaining the ‘Technical Conscience’ of the business.
A big part of the Principal Engineering Manager role is technical leadership and delivery. But what really inspires and motivates me is the capability management aspects of the role. Since joining the business in October 2020, we’ve nearly doubled the team and have plans to recruit a further 20 engineers. We cover all aspects of engineering: from electrical engineering, to mechanical engineering, composites, batteries and more.
Q. How long have you worked in the industry?
A. I’ve only been in the renewables sector for 18 months. Prior to this, I worked in defence – a completely different industry!
Q. What was your career path?
A. I studied for a Bachelors in Engineering (BEng) in Mechanical Engineering, which included a one year industrial placement, followed by a Masters degree in Science – still focused on Mechanical Engineering. Then I went straight onto a leadership programme with BAE Systems. During that time I rotated around the business with secondments in Naval Ships, Air, Land UK, Submarines and a Joint Venture based in France before taking up an Engineering Manager role for Tank and Artillery, for a couple of years. I moved to EDF Renewables in 2020.
Q. What attracted you to working in the renewables industry?
A. There were lots of factors that attracted me to the renewables sector. For a start, it’s probably more agile than defence. The industry is growing rapidly and, as a business, we’re diversifying into new technologies, like hydrogen. It’s also really fast-paced, which makes it exciting to work in. But the biggest challenge we face is helping Britain achieve net zero and doing something directly to help tackle climate change really inspires me.
Q. What motivates you at work?
A. I’m really motivated by having a goal and at EDF Renewables, that goal is helping accelerate the drive to clean energy and reaching net zero as a nation. The business is going to have to change to meet these challenges and being part of the business as this happens – and helping to influence it – is really motivating. How I manage my team and our capabilities is a big enabler of the business being able to respond to the challenge of net zero.
Q. Tell us more about the new STEM programme you’re working on
A. One of the things I’m working on at the moment is a new STEM programme in our team. We’re looking at how we can encourage new people into the engineering world and to develop a career in this sector.
It’s a broad programme, comprising a few different work packages. The first is about career pathways and opportunities. So this is how we get EDF Renewables’ brand out there more – through events, webinars, career fairs and so on.
The second strand is around role modelling and mentoring. We’re looking at women working in engineering – and other under-represented groups – and trying to break down some of the stereotypes associated with it. We want to demonstrate that we have a diverse team at EDF Renewables and, through this, encourage more diversity in the future workplace.
Then finally, there’s the STEM learning piece. We’re going into schools with our ‘Energy Box’, which allows the students to make their own wind turbine or solar power circuits. We also talk about renewables and show young people what a career in the renewables industry looks like.
Q. Are women equally represented in engineering?
A. I think we’re quite good in our gender balance at EDF Renewables – and we have a mix of diverse talent. But, more broadly, there’s not equal representation in the industry. According to Engineering UK, women only make up 16.5% of all engineers, so there’s obviously an imbalance there that doesn’t reflect society.
The good news is we are seeing more female graduates and apprentices come through the pipeline. But it does take time for the next generation of talent to come through.
Q. What do you think we can do to increase the diversity of the sector?
A. My dad was an engineer so it was quite normal in my family to imagine being an engineer. If he hadn’t worked in engineering, I don’t think I’d have pursued it.
This is why I really believe we need to prioritise the role model piece in our STEM programme. By normalising female engineers and engaging with the younger generation, we stand a better chance of influencing their career decisions later on.
I think mentoring is important as well. Early on in my career, I had two really good female Managing Directors mentor me. Being able to see women like me in senior positions was really inspiring.
Q. What would you say to any girl who enjoys the subjects you enjoyed at school and is thinking about their career options?
A. To any young girl who’s interested in science and considering her career options, I’d say go ahead and explore it. After all, if you enjoy something, why not pursue it?
Q. Is there anything about engineering that you don’t think people outside the industry know about it, which we should be shouting about?
A. Part of the reason why I enjoy engineering so much is the problem-solving aspect of it. If you’re quite a curious person naturally in life, then you’ll probably do well at engineering because you instinctively want to know how things are made or why something’s broken. That problem-solving element, for me, was always the pull towards engineering as a career.
Q. If you weren’t an engineer, what would you like to do for a career?
A. I actually studied physics for a year at university, before switching to engineering. So if I wasn’t an engineer, I might have ended up working in some kind of physics role. But I could see more clearly a career path with engineering and the real-life applications of it, which led me to switch degree courses.