Talking aerospace engineering and STEM with Emma England

Materials World magazine
,
1 May 2016

Having recently won Semta’s Best of British Engineering award, Emma England talks to Natalie Daniels about her career in aerospace engineering and encouraging young people into STEM careers. 

Tell me about your background.

I applied to study Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Bristol, but I deferred entry in 2007 to complete the Year in Industry training programme at Rolls-Royce. I spent a year in the defence section for aircraft engines, working on safety. I then went to university to study and in my summer terms completed placements at Atkins Global, in the aerospace department, and Rolls-Royce, this time working in the turbines department focusing on aerothermal designs. I went on to complete a research placement at the University of Bristol, studying non-linear dynamics of aircraft wings – where wear and tear occurs in the structural joints. After finishing my degree, I started the graduate programme at Airbus and later joined the loads and aeroelastics department. 

What made you want to enter engineering?  

I was always very good at maths and science, particularly physics. Having flown long distances from a young age, I was allowed to experience the aircraft cockpit and talk to the captain – this sparked my interest and was where it all started. Civil engineering never really felt like a fit, but aerospace felt like the right career. At my school, we had an applied programme in physics where I was able to work on a number of projects, testing career options to see what I enjoyed. One was focused on the materials in application – aluminium in aerospace – and another was looking at composites in aerospace. I was able to explore what I was interested in and that led me to go down the university path and study engineering. 

What does your role at Airbus involve? 

I am working particularly on static aeroelastics. We take a finite element model – typically a computer based model of the aircraft, which is generated by the structure department – and then we will reduce it to get the flexibility and mass of that wing. We then work with the aerodynamics department, who generate the computational fluid dynamics model, to bring these three elements together, coupling the mass, structural and aerodynamic models to study how the wing flexes in flight. 

Congratulations on winning the Best of British Engineering at the Semta skills Awards. What does this award mean to you and how do you hope it will help you in the future? 

I was very pleased and honoured to win the award. It is great to be recognised for the work I do, and also great in terms of promoting STEM to young people – it is nice to have that thrust into the spotlight. Hopefully, this award will help me with my career options for the future and get more help and support with the paths I take. The idea is to keep promoting STEM and encourage more girls and boys into engineering. 

How do you try and encourage more young people into engineering careers?

My advice is that engineering is so diverse that there is something out there for most people. There are some areas of engineering that are very focused on detail and there are others that are a lot more top level. There are a lot of different disciplines in engineering from aerospace, chemical and electrical to structural and system. Find out as much as you can and get involved, whether that is going to career fairs or getting involved in schemes – learn about the opportunities out there. Do work experience – a lot of big and small companies offer it – and make the most of these opportunities. 

There are so many routes into engineering. Do you recommend a particular route to follow? 

It really comes down to the individual and what suits them. At Airbus, we have craft apprenticeships, higher apprenticeships, undergraduate and the graduate programme – if someone wants to be more hands-on and on the shop floor, then a craft apprenticeship would be better. If you want to be more office-based and are interested in the logistical side of things then a higher apprenticeship might be more suitable. I recommend doing a programme like the undergraduate apprenticeship or graduate scheme because it exposes you to different areas of the business. Equally, in the craft apprenticeship, you are gaining the training and skills in a practical environment. Find out what works for you – there is no point pushing yourself to go to university if, at the end of the day, you want to be more practical and hands-on.

For those in mid-career seeking to enter engineering, what is the best approach to do this?

There are still options to do training programmes. We have had people start the graduate programme not directly out of university. There are plenty of courses and assistance out there to keep an eye on. Also, you might find something that takes the skills you already had from an existing role and be able to transfer them to an engineering workplace. A lot of engineering is about understanding how different things fit together and also the people. The soft skills you learn from other roles are transferrable and should be used to your advantage in an engineering career. 

To find more about Emma’s role at Airbus, visit www.airbus.com

If you would like to be featured in the PD section, contact natalie.daniels@iom3.org