Engineering has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, but that is changing as a wealth of young, female talent floods the industry.
Institution of Mechanical Engineers member Lorna Bennet is one such talent, and has been nominated as a finalist for the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award.
Bennet grew up in Scotland, and says it was the remoteness of her childhood home that first got her interested in engineering.
“I grew up in a tiny village in the middle of Scotland that used to regularly suffer from power cuts every winter,” she says. “We had a very small population in the village, so when the winter storms came we were always last on the list to be sorted, and because of that I became very interested in becoming self-sustainable and not relying on anyone else to come and turn the power back on.”
But while Lorna always enjoyed using the skills associated with being an engineer, helping her dad with the DIY around the house, it was not something she was always destined to become. That fate was sealed when a supportive teacher pushed for her to attend a university open day a year early.
“My school usually only sent final year students to university open days, but my art teacher, Mr Simpson, convinced me and a fellow fifth year student to go to the Glasgow School of Art open day,” Lorna says. “That was when we both first heard about product design engineering and decided it was what we both wanted to do. That allowed me to choose the subjects for my final year that would help me get onto the right course at university.
“If it hadn’t been for that day I wouldn’t have found out about engineering and it wouldn’t have been an option for me.”
After this revelation, Bennet attended a summer Headstart course with the Royal Academy of Engineering before finishing her schooling and moving on to university. Now, the young Scot works as a mechanical engineer with The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, working on a number of projects, including a demonstration offshore wind turbine that works as a research and development platform for industry and academics to promote the technology.
Lorna is also a STEM ambassador, running the STEM engagement and intern programme for her companies Glasgow office, and she wants to encourage more young women to take up a career in engineering, just like she has.
“Outreach work is very important for young people and young women engineers,” she says. “We recently had four work experience students come in for a week from high schools and my aim of that was to show them round all of the different departments so they could experience everything we do.
“When you are at school you don’t really know what working life is like, so getting that experience is vital. When I was at school my careers adviser didn’t really know what engineering was, and it took a lot of effort from me to get them understand my decision and write my UCAS reference.”
“That is changing now,” she adds, “and there are certainly more industry and social media initiatives aimed at promoting engineering as a career for young women and shining a light on the role models that they need to see out there who are already doing this work. It has often been said that “you can’t be what you can’t see”.