‘I spend a lot of my time in orange these days.’ says Terri Seel, a section engineer at leading construction and infrastructure company Morgan Sindall.
The orange is a reference to the high visibility work wear required by people working with Network Rail. Following her A Levels and a brief flirtation with a career in criminal law, Terri, from Glossop in the Peak District, plumped for a career in infrastructure engineering. Her progress has been as dramatic as the projects she’s involved with: major road and rail infrastructure projects which help knit the country’s regions together.
‘In 2008 I was lucky enough to win a scholarship through the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Quest programme which allowed me to undertake the four year undergraduate degree in civil engineering at the University of Sheffield, sponsored by Morgan Sindall.
‘The sponsorship meant that I would get practical experience of working on a live project while I wasn’t studying. Something really clicked with me once I was in the working environment, I just loved it. So much so in fact, that I stayed around for the entire summer until I went back to studies.
'The job I'd always wanted'
‘I then carried on with this arrangement for the next few years working with the site engineering team while I was completing my academic work.
‘When I graduated in 2012, I took up the full time role within Morgan Sindall which was attached to the sponsorship. All the effort I’d put in paid off as I found I’d got the job I’d always wanted.
‘In May 2012, I was set to work as part of the project team on the North Doncaster Chord scheme: a 3.2 km rail bottleneck removal on the East Coast Main Line which partially ran over a viaduct. It was fantastic to be formally part of the team and was an intriguing engineering challenge upon which to cut my teeth.
‘This was an 18 month programme of works where I had responsibilities for setting out and day to day planning. With the end of this project, I was promoted on to the Crewe Green Link Road in Cheshire as a section engineer. This meant I had overall responsibility for a specific section of the project.
‘My section was to see the road be driven beneath the Derby to Crewe Line in an underbridge section. The critical point was a 54 hour period where Network Rail handed the rail line over to us. During this time we had to make preparations for, and move into place, a 2,000 tonne bridge to carry the existing railway over the new road.
‘The detail of planning was meticulous and the risk reports were colossal. I don’t mind admitting that it was nerve-wracking as the day approached but in the end we managed to get everything back to an operational situation in just under 52 hours.
‘I am now delivering similar aspects of the A6 Manchester Airport relief road across Stockport which includes ten bridges rather than just the one. This will be my project for the next 18 months.’
Recognition and merit
Asked if she thinks women need to work harder for recognition in what is often seen as a male sector, Terri is unequivocal: ‘No, my experience is that it is about merit.’ She says. ‘I think that women are very well suited to engineering roles which require the ability to think about different problems simultaneously and require excellent communication skills. If you were to read a job specification without the word engineer at the top, you would think it was actually written for a woman because those skills come naturally.
‘Of course there are fantastic and truly inspirational male engineers, many of whom I work with, and our approaches are not that different. Whether across the board women have to work harder for recognition, I don’t know, but it is not my experience.
‘I always advise that one of the key skills is communications, both with your own colleagues and with customers and subcontractors. Candour and openness are vital if you are to garner trust and earn respect. Collaboration is a key element of what we do.
‘The other main misconception of engineering is that people will often think that you spend your day on sites or digging ditches. Many engineers never go on site, they are designers who understand the structural requirements of a project. Personally, I love being on site helping turn a plan on a page into reality.
‘There’s a skills shortage in engineering full stop, it is not just about women. So, the more people who understand the diverse nature of engineering roles, the more will be attracted to what is a rewarding and exciting career.’
Terri’s work was recognised at the annual European Women in Construction and Engineering Awards this year where she won both the Best Young Woman Engineer category and the overall Most Distinguished Winner of 2015 award.
Tony O'Donnell, engineering director and ICE Training Scheme leader, and Terri’s Supervising Civil Engineer at Morgan Sindall added: “I first met Terri when she was an A-level student applying for an ICE Quest scholarship. Her passion to make a career in the construction of civil engineering infrastructure shone through in her application and interview. With her clear practical, technical and leadership skills, Terriwas an obvious candidate to sponsor.
At Morgan Sindall we recognise that talented people are the key to our success and we are keen to support gifted candidates from a wide variety of diverse backgrounds to help ensure a bright future for our industry.
- National Women in Engineering Day – 23 June - is a day dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in engineering. It is promoted by the Women’s Engineering Society http://www.wes.org.uk/nwed