How to become a mechanical engineer: Emma's career case study

By Future TalentEd

Emma Steedman works for Rolls-Royce as a mechanical integrity engineer. See her career story.

What’s great about working as a mechanical engineer at Rolls-Royce Plc?

Working for Rolls-Royce, an original equipment manufacturer, has allowed me to gain experience and network with colleagues around the world. Currently, I work within the Critical Parts Team, but during the graduate scheme, I worked as a materials design engineer, a future projects analyst, and a manufacturing engineer in Engine Build and Testing.

These were fantastic roles, as I had the chance to witness the full lifecycle of a gas turbine, from component design, to manufacture, build, testing and maintenance, acquiring various skills that improved my knowledge and development.

Rolls-Royce advocates recruiting more women in engineering. The chief commercial officer of the Civil Aerospace division is a co-chair of the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter, which reassured me when joining a male-dominated field.

What sort of person would mechanical engineering suit, as a career?

If you’re curious and inquisitive about how things work, a career in engineering allows you to learn and innovate. Pioneering solutions for the future of sustainable power is at the forefront of engineering at Rolls-Royce Plc, therefore there are always new challenges to solve. It’s suited to someone who is creative and collaborative, with an open-minded approach to problem solving. Someone who is enthusiastic about shaping the world for current and future generations would suit a career in engineering.

What subjects would it be useful to study for a mechanical engineering career? What practical experience would be beneficial?

Maths and Physics are foundations for engineering. If you have the opportunity to study Technological Studies or Applied Science, even better! I’d recommend getting as much practical experience as you can with mechanical equipment during your studies. The hands-on experience will improve your problem-solving skills, providing an understanding of overcoming engineering problems, and a technical understanding of how theories and principles are applied in real life. Studying as a mechanical engineer at university, I used my summer months to gain industry experience. When applying for jobs, this gave me a variety of projects to discuss with employers and showcase the technical skills I gained.

Could you outline the routes into entry-level roles in your field at your organisation?

Beginning your journey as an engineer at Rolls-Royce can take the form of an apprenticeship post-GCSE or A Levels, summer and year-long internships through university, or joining the graduate scheme. Starting as a graduate myself, I worked in teams across the company on rotational attachments. This allowed me to tackle projects in different roles within design, analysis and manufacturing. Something that I think would be useful to anyone considering entering engineering would be the Resource Hub on the Women in Aviation and Aerospace website. Take a look at the ‘Inspiring the Next Generation’ and ‘Preparing for Take Off’ sections; you’ll find tools and how-to guides that will help you prepare for your career.

“Someone who is enthusiastic about shaping the world for current and future generations would suit a career in engineering”

What personal skills and qualities would you need?

Curiosity is crucial. The problem-solving role requires an inquisitive, creative and open mind for developing new ideas and overcoming technical problems. During the early years of my career, I realised that there’s a lot to learn from other fields. This requires being agood listener and building good working relationships, especially when collaborating across sectors. Strong communication skills help cross-sector collaboration and teamwork. In time, you will develop and deliver projects that will require strong leadership skills to bring your ideas to fruition.

How could your career develop as a mechanical engineer at your organisation or beyond?

Having completed the graduate scheme, I’m now building my technical knowledge as a mechanical integrity engineer. Moving forward, I could focus on a particular area and work towards becoming a technical specialist. Alternatively, I could broaden my skills towards a leadership role such as a team lead or manager. Rolls-Royce is a large company with many opportunities within civil aviation, defence, nuclear and power systems.

What has been the highlight of your job so far?

During my graduate scheme, I collaborated with a team of other engineers to design, manufacture and test a new method of applying a protective coating to jet engine components that operate at extremely high temperatures. At such an early stage in my career, it was exciting to be responsible for planning and executing a successful project from start to finish. Every member of the team took ownership of a different aspect of the project, from procuring the materials and testing equipment to developing the design, manufacturing the solutions and testing the final concept. Presenting our solution to a panel of technical specialists to be considered as a potential future solution was extremely rewarding.


This piece was first featured in our Spring 2021 issue of Future TalentEd magazine for careers leaders, parents and students.

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