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Raising the Profile of Women in Engineering - An interview with Val Hart

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Raising the Profile of Women in Engineering

An interview with Val Hart, Technical Manager at Fine Tubes

Val Hart is Technical Manager at Fine Tubes, part of AMETEK Specialty Metal Products, overseeing a number of key production aspects including customer satisfaction and quality control. Here, she talks about the challenges of her role and her advice for women interested in a career in engineering.

Q. Were you always interested in a career in engineering?

Yes, I’ve always wanted to be an engineer although my father didn’t want me to become one because back in the 1970s, when the north of England and Manchester area were going through a depression, engineering jobs in Manchester were disappearing fast. It seemed to be the wrong time for his daughter to go into engineering, but I wasn’t put off at all. I went to university and did a degree in metallurgy. I figured that it wasn’t a traditional engineering type degree and so wouldn’t be too geared towards heavy engineering. As it happened, though, I ended up in the steelworks at Scunthorpe, the heaviest engineering industry you could possibly get in this country!

You could say I had a baptism of fire. I was the only woman in the manufacturing area the majority of the time but it quickly became accepted that there was a female engineer working in their midst. At times it has been a real fight to get to a certain level, however things are changing for the better now. Throughout much of my career, I have found that you’ve got to be twice as good as any man to get that next promotion; this gives you a resilience and a determination to work hard and succeed.

Q. What is it like being a Technical Manager?

I started with Fine Tubes nine years ago, which is quite a long time compared to positions I’ve had elsewhere. Being Technical Manager is definitely a challenge. It feels like I’m a chief negotiator at times because I’m responsible for making sure that the customer gets the right material of the right quality and that it arrives with them in the right condition. I also have to make sure that we understand what it is the customer needs the tubing for and that we have got the specification right for that requirement.

Our customers here at Fine Tubes often have extremely precise demands and they operate in the top markets around the world. When you’re dealing with people in the aerospace industry, for example, or in nuclear or oil and gas, they come to you with a lot of extra specifications for specific applications which you wouldn’t get in any other sector. Those extra requirements mean that every day is challenging, because we are working to deliver excellence in tube making. That’s where we’re at. It’s a fantastic job and I love it.

Q. What does a typical day look like for you?

Well, there isn’t a typical day. We start each day with a morning meeting, where we pick up any issues that occurred over the shift from the previous day and then we all get on with our different jobs and responsibilities. Our first priority is to make sure that if something urgent needs to be attended to, you do just that. If we need to get something out the door with a tight deadline, for example, or if the manufacturing team needs extra support.

Then in the afternoons, I normally focus more on longer-term projects. As my role is so varied, I need a little peace and quiet sometimes and in an open-plan office you don’t always get that. When I need to go through complicated specifications and research papers, I sometimes need uninterrupted time to understand a particular point or to come up with a new way of thinking. It’s a very busy environment at work, and so sometimes I end up taking documents home to read them in peace.

Q. What should we be doing to raise the profile of women in engineering?

I think in a lot of cases you need to educate the parents. Young people are often influenced most by what their parents have done themselves as a career, or ideas that they choose to push at home. If the parents of young women can guide them towards engineering as a career, then it’s something that they will be far more likely to consider. However, if families don’t understand what the options are, or are not equipped to give a properly structured answer to their daughters’ questions, you can then you can end up with misunderstandings and stereotyped expectations. Having talked to many families over the years, I often find that that’s where we need to target.

Q. What advice do you have for young women who are interested in a career in engineering?

I’d say to think very seriously about engineering as a career choice. It’s not just about the job that you will be doing tomorrow; it’s about the job you want to do in the many years to come. It’s about having the drive and desire to move on and to understand where you can make a difference in today’s world. Engineering has a huge impact on so many areas of our lives. What’s more, if you work in engineering then your skills will always be in demand and you will probably get paid a lot better than in many other industries, which means you can be self sufficient!