Diary of an engineer: Promotion and respect

Submitted by AWL on 4 May, 2021 - 7:02 Author: Emma Rickman
Engineering plant

My line manager pulls me into his office and says: “I’m sure you’ve heard by now that A is retiring.” A is the plant compliance manager, meaning she makes sure the company sticks to its emissions limits. From what I know, she works from an office writing reports to powerful agencies and issuing instructions to plant staff — health and safety bulletins, training requirements, and requests for data.

A is also the most “high up” of the four women on site, and outside of the managers’ office floor we barely see each other. She’s been kind to me, but also sometimes sexist and unhelpful. She happens to be my manager’s partner.

My line manager says: “Would you like to train for A’s job as compliance manager?”

Me: “Oh — wow — that’s very senior?”

N: “You’ve got the communications skills — and plant knowledge. I’ve spoken to your assessor, we could fast-track you through the last bits of your apprenticeship. What was your degree in again... chemistry?”

Me: “English.”

N: “Well I think you’d like working on the emissions data and seeing how the analysers work? There’s a girl — sorry, woman — in Birmingham who works on compliance and she could train you. Then there’s other girls from across the country you’d be working with regularly as part of the compliance team. You could shadow A from next week and we could get you in there?”

Me: “Wow — thanks very much — when do you need to know by?”

N: “Asap. You’d be starting from June. Don’t tell the other apprentices. I’m not offering it to them. I can’t guarantee you a job — you know that — but this has come up and we could slot you into the staff budget.”

I have a meeting with my apprentice assessor, G, immediately afterwards. I ask him what he thinks.

G: “It’s a no-brainer, amazing opportunity. I mean, someone like you with the background — and you’ll be wanting to start a family...”

Me: “But it’s an office job. He’s proposing to take me off the tools — is this the company’s way of telling me I’m not good enough?”

G: “You always think about this stuff negatively, but this is a compliment! Look, hands-down your communication skills are amazing, but compared with L (the other apprentice) who’s better with a multi-meter?”

Me: “L, definitely.”

G: “There you go. This job would be great for someone with yourconviction on the environment.”

Later, I realise that if I take this job, the last three years of my training in engineering will be for nothing. I’ll be back in a lonely office, communicating to everyone by email, reading endless documents and going mad with boredom. I’ll go on the plant to do inspections, maybe quarterly, and I’ll be giving instructions to engineers, but never able to do the work myself.

In conversations with my partner we considered the way my manager talked about the “girls” in Leeds and Birmingham, and about his relationship with A, and that she’d chosen to retire just before an Outage. It seemed like a desperate move to fill a “role”: one woman out, get another in. I considered my colleagues in maintenance and ops — would they lose all respect for me? I realised I would lose a lot of respect for myself.

Braced for confrontation, I knock on my manager’s door the following week.

Me: “Thanks for asking me, but I’ve been thinking about A’s job, and it’s not for me.”

N smiles and nods immediately.

N: “No worries! Hey — if you want to apply for that job in Ops, you’ll need to know the permit regs --”

He strides into his office and hands me his copy of the plant’s contract.

N: “Don’t tell anyone I told you that though.” he smiles.

• Emma Rickman is an apprentice engineer in a Combined Heat and Power plant

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