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Getting to know a female engineer

04 May 2016

Parker Hannifin conducted a Q&A session with Nicolle Dawkins, a costing engineer who has come through its graduate program.

Nicolle Dawkins, Costing Engineer, Parker Hannifin

So tell us about yourself and how you became interested in engineering?

I’m originally from London and graduated from the University of Surrey in 2012 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I then enrolled on Parker’s two and half year Engineering Graduate Program which led me to my permanent role as a Costing Engineer at Parker’s Chomerics Division. 

Since I was a child, I’ve always had an interest in technology and how objects are made, and I also have a strong passion for cars. I don’t think there was a defining moment that kick started my interest in engineering but rather my intrigue increased as I grew up. My father also comes from an engineering background so I’m sure this would also have had an influence.

How was your decision supported at school?

I wouldn’t say I was certain that I wanted to pursue an engineering career, but I knew I wanted to study a discipline that was continually changing, evolving and where I wouldn’t get bored of learning. 

STEM subjects were heavily supported and encouraged at my secondary school for all students, whether it was a future career path or not so it was always important to work hard in these areas and succeed. My head teacher was keen to support my decision of pursuing an engineering career, having studied a mathematics degree herself. 

I was good at maths, science and enjoyed practical education so the Mechanical Engineering course at university was an ideal choice to enjoy this combination.

After you graduated, how were you made aware of the Parker graduate program?

I visited a Graduate recruitment fair in London and came across the Parker Hannifin booth. At the time I had never even heard of Parker. I spoke to a couple of graduates who were on the scheme at the time and they gave me insight into the program and the diversity of the training involved.

I decided to pursue Parker’s graduate scheme as I was impressed by the potential flexibility and scope of the engineering program. The idea that you could tailor it to your engineering strengths and interests in line with the various technologies seemed advantageous.

Describe the program?

Parker focuses a significant amount of investment on its graduates. The support you receive is great and includes quarterly update meetings, team building events, mentoring, former graduate buddying, training (technical and non-technical), funding for further studying and relocation support.

During the program, I was fortunate enough to travel to a selection of locations, including Sweden, Czech Republic, France as well as various parts of the UK. As Parker is a global company with over 50,000 employees, the engineering technologies are varied and, although my background is in mechanical engineering, I’ve benefited from exposure to electronic, hydraulic and chemical engineering.

I’ve also been able to experience job roles within QA, design, supply chain, marketing and systems engineering. All placements have provided me with different skill sets that I am now able to apply in my present role. 

Tell us about your current role and your expectations for the future 

My role includes estimating manufacturing costs to improve business growth, advising customers of suitable designs and materials for their EMI shielding requirements, reducing overall manufacturing costs through lean initiatives and deciding on the most cost-effective location to produce a given solution. 

The role requires me to liaise daily with supply chain, production and of course, engineering. Every day is different and there are frequently surprise challenges which result in me needing to continually learn, but I also have to remain diligent in my daily work as the decisions I make can have a significant impact on the rest of the business.

In the future I would ideally like to travel extensively through business and be in a position of technical leadership; perhaps managing a multi-disciplined team that focuses on the latest in new product development and systems solutions to customers.

Tell us about your experiences as a woman in a male-dominated role

I feel that I’m at an advantage as I stand out more in any group environments! I’ve been fortunate so far and have faced very few, if any, challenges due to my gender. 

Having spoken to various women within the sector at conferences, the major challenge for women is having self-belief and persistence. As in any sector, it is important to continue to develop knowledge and build your professional network to enable opportunities to arise more easily – while ignoring any dated and inaccurate preconceptions of engineering purely being about “the man who comes to fix your boiler!”

What advice would you have for women that want to break into engineering?

I would say that you’ve picked a great choice for a career! Ensure you do enough research to gain the necessary information, whether that is through talking to other women in engineering, attending seminars or simply using the internet. The opportunities are so varied and limitless that you are bound to find a highly rewarding occupation to suit whatever your specific interests may be.

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