By Jessica Leary, Westlakes Recruit
With over 10 years of experience working within the nuclear sector, award winning project management professional, Georgina Stalker, began her engineering career journey after leaving school, at 16 years old.
Upon completion of her Mechanical Design apprenticeship, Gina gained a full-time role as a Mechanical Designer at Tata Steel, before then moving into a project engineering role, where she became the Lead Project Engineer for the company’s largest, 30-million-pound project.
In 2020 alongside Gina’s role as a Project Engineer, she also became the Section Lead for the team of six other Project Engineers at the now TSP Engineering, formerly Tata Steel.
In September 2021, Gina joined Sellafield Ltd, to pursue a career within project management.
What did a typical day look like for you as a Lead Project Engineer & now in project management within the nuclear industry?
In my role as a Lead Project Engineer, I was super busy! The project was manufacturing 50 tonnes of lead shielded transport flasks, to transport highly hazardous waste around the Sellafield site. Even that sounds exciting! We had 13 of them to manufacture from scratch too. My day involved solving any problems that cropped up throughout the manufacturing lifecycle. Mainly problems in assembly, testing or commissioning phases. I would also have to liaise daily with the client, and in particular their design engineers to solve any issues. I would have to be on hand as a direct contact for inhouse fabrication, machine, and assembly personnel to answer any project queries. I would have to assess manufacture against the schedule reported to the client. I was in charge of writing risk assessments, method statements and producing work packs for non-routine work. I would also write the manufacturing quality plans and gain client approval. I could probably go on all day!
Now I am in project management and it is very different! My day consists mainly of managing people and other teams, whereas in engineering I was solving complex engineering problems, I now must plan, lead, and prioritise other people which is extremely complex. There’s one thing though, in both roles it’s extremely exciting and fast-paced. You can plan your next day, and the next morning you will come in to a million and one emails and your whole planned day has just gone out the window! But it keeps work exciting which I think is important!
What are the highlights of your engineering career, and what’s next for you?
Oh god, I’ve been so lucky to have been recognised for some amazing things! In 2018 I was recognised and received a highly commended award for “Rising Star” with the Manufacturing Champions. This award is given to someone who is one to watch for the future, who shows that age and experience are no barriers to success. Winners will demonstrate maturity and experience that belies their years and will be performing on par with more experienced colleagues.
In 2019 I was named in the prestigious, The Manufacturers Top 100, and not only that, but I was also named in the Top 20 exemplars within. Among the Top 100, the judging panel chose 20 exemplars – those who have exemplified remarkable leadership, daring or innovation withing their respective field, and who set the direction of travel as we head into the new decade. I was shocked and very humbled to be recognised within the Top 20, if you read the publication, I was recognised alongside some amazing role models which was unbelievable.
In 2021 I was shortlisted for Young Manufacturer of the Year with The Manufacturer. This award recognises an individual who has demonstrated a strong understanding of their manufacturing environment and processes, a hands-on passion for their work; a record of commitment to training and professional development and an ambition to excel in industry. Candidates should be able to show resourcefulness and strong problem solving skills, with a strong commitment to quality and awareness of the customer and market needs for their company. Although I didn’t go on to win this award, I felt a huge sense of achievement and proudness in being shortlisted as I know how stringent the judging process is! I am thrilled with being just shortlisted for a national award. The level of candidates I was up against was admirable, one guy was featured in Forbes 30 under 30! It just shows the level of professionalism and excellence I was shortlisted with.
The last thing is completing my degree in nuclear operations, I had to work so hard to pass my exams. I was always one to learn from hands on experience so sitting classroom exams were and still are difficult for me, but nothing felt better than when I received that email to say I had finished with an upper second-class degree! All of the long nights, missed social events and tears were 100% worth it!
The next thing for me, is being able to submit my chartership application with the IMechE. I guess the last 10.5 years’ worth of experience have led me to this submission and it is a huge sense of achievement! Hopefully I will receive an invitation for an interview and pass the process. I will also be sitting the APM qualification in May 2022 and hope to become a professional member with them this year.
You’ve also taken to social media to write about your thoughts and experiences as a female engineer, which has gained over 99,000 responses. What drove you to write about your experiences?
I guess for me, it was the fact that I have just started a new role, and my previous role was all I had ever known after being there for 10 years. I was reflecting on some of the comments and perceptions that I was faced with at the beginning of my career and thinking about how far we have come with gender diversity in male orientated sectors since.
I wrote about how I had a face full of make up on, big eyelashes, a sparkly dress and long nails (outside of work) and how I was still an engineer. Being new to a role, to thousands of new colleagues and new environments made me think about potential new perceptions and first impressions people may have of me as an engineer, and I innocently wrote a post about it, not knowing it was going to blow up in a few days! It was interesting to see some of the comments I received, unfortunately a lot of them were extremely negative and showed the issues and struggles females in our world still face every day. I won’t give the negative comments the airtime, most of them I deleted, but a lot are still there if you are interested to read. Luckily the positive comments far outweighed the negative and 99% of people were in agreeance or encouraged and backed female engineers!
What does diversity in the workplace mean to you?
I think as a female in STEM environments it is particularly important as it highlights certain issues in terms of diversity. The facts and figures show that we are extremely outweighed in terms of gender equality. I think it is extremely important to inspire the younger generations in terms of STEM subjects. Previous research shows that when you ask young people (primary and secondary schools) what they aspire to be when they grow up, it is normally something that they are surrounded by and have knowledge of, for example whatever role their mother, father, grandmother and grandfather may undertake. I don’t think the younger generations get enough insight into STEM subjects and particularly engineering. If you ask them what they think an engineer is, I’ll almost bet they say something about engines! It’s about teaching them how diverse the sector can be, and how many different roles and responsibilities we have now, in the hope we can sway more young people to undertake STEM roles. I am a huge advocate of the STEM ambassador programme and get into schools, colleges, universities to tell my stories and inspire (hopefully) as much as I can!
Who is your engineering hero?
It has to be Elon Musk! Everything he does I find fascinating and want to read about. The tesla cars are amazing! They can do more things than my mobile phone can! At the age of 12 he coded a video game and sold it for $500. He used to work as a cleaner in a boiler room for $18 per hour. He is now the highest paid CEO ever. He is living proof of what hard work can get you. He gives a lot of money to charity. I could go on all day, I think the guy is so, so interesting! And I never get bored of reading what he’s getting up to next! I imagine he will be off to the moon soon!
What advice would you give to young engineers aspiring to build a career in nuclear?
I would say don’t give up. There is a lot of people in these sectors who have been here a long time and are not open to change or diversity, and a lot of people are set in their ways. I came up against negative comments and remarks, but I never gave up. In fact, they just pushed me to do better. If someone doubted me, I worked harder to prove them wrong. I studied, I put in extra work, I paired up with more experienced engineers. I became the person people came to, to ask questions, because I worked hard, and I never gave up. Believe in yourself, work hard and you can go as far as you want to.
If you’d like to find out more about the STEM Ambassador Programme, visit https://www.stem.org.uk/stem-ambassadors.
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