In celebration of National Women in Engineering Day, we found some inside information from NRS Healthcare’s Senior Design Engineer Sue Bevan, to find out what it’s really like to work in an industry still considered to be dominated by men.

Sue and Seahorse1. What is your role at NRS Healthcare?

I’ve taken on the role of Senior Design Engineer within the New Product Development Team at Head Office in Bardon.

2. What do you enjoy about design engineering?

Most people don’t realise that engineers are massively creative – after all they are the people who are behind many everyday inventions. My time in the engineering sector has afforded me to travel whilst learning my profession and also provided me with good prospects for climbing the career ladder – something which I’ve enjoyed immensely.

3. How did you progress to the role you have today?

Growing up in Holland, I studied at an International School before taking up an Engineering Degree. My first job was at Ford Motor Company, which gave me the opportunity to work on significant and interesting projects and enabled me to travel Europe. I also became a Chartered Mechanical Engineer. After 10 years of service I realised I would like to further my interest in product design so I left to study a 2 year post graduate degree in Industrial Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art in London.

For my post graduate project, I decided to research and design a medical high chair, which in fact shared many similarities to the Seahorse Sanichair design which is exclusive to NRS Healthcare. I did my research with Great Ormond Street Hospital and in Sweden before securing a £7000 grant for it to go into limited production. Many hospitals and companies showed an interest and purchased the product, which is how I met the team at Kirton Healthcare.

I freelanced for Kirton Healthcare over a 12 year period as a design engineer – designing a significant number of products in their catalogue, including their Duo Chair which has been in production for 10 years now. I then moved on to work at Arjo Huntleigh, who is responsible for making a large number of the UK’s hospital beds. During my time there, I helped to redesign their hospital bed range but after 2 years service, they decided to close the UK R&D office.

That’s when NRS Healthcare offered me an interview. After meeting with Steve Kennedy, the Commercial Director, I knew I could fit in well by using all my previous years experience to kickstart the Seahorse project, which had been shelved for a number of years, and help to update their award-winning Seahorse Sanichair design for a more modern audience.

4. Why did you want to work for NRS Healthcare?

NRS Healthcare is already well-recognised within the industry – regularly exhibiting at established shows such as NAIDEX and offering a huge range of products for older and disabled people. I left the interview with a great impression of the company and felt they employed a team of people who would really be there to support me in my endeavours, as well having enough resource to achieve my goals.

I also liked how all the different areas of the business were mixed together. In some companies, engineers can be separated from the rest of the business creating an “us and them” atmosphere. NRS take a more modern approach, where people from all business areas intermingle, aiding communication.

5. In your opinion, do women have to do more to prove themselves in the engineering industry? Why?

I think that years ago this was the case but I’ve found there are less barriers these days. The focus today isn’t so much on gender, but rather on motivation and whether you have the drive to succeed.

6. What three traits do you need to succeed as a design engineer?

A career in engineering can be very varied. In my case, I started out as a Mechanical Engineer, developing state of the art motor vehicle production before moving towards the more creative route of product design, developing an understanding of aesthetics, people and function.

Today, two routes are available for young people with an engineering / design interest, either to study a pure engineering degree, or to study a product design degree with a mix of creative and technical learning.

Three traits I have found valuable include:

  1. An analytical mind – competence in Science and Maths will take you a long way
  2. Thick skin – you’ll often encounter obstacles which need to be negotiated, especially in the first few years of learning your profession
  3. Creative vision – the products I design for NRS are used by people, and should be functional and attractive

7. What piece of advice would you give to a woman wanting to join the engineering sector?

Never be satisfied with the status quo. Always ask yourself “how can I make this better?”

Engineering is a creative and exciting career – one that I would fully advise young women to get involved in. At the moment, the UK is crying out for good engineers, and although qualifying is hard work (expect 9-5 plus a couple of extra hours per day to get your degree), you’re pretty much guaranteed a job at the end of your studying – often with an established blue chip company.

Personally, I’ve found Design Engineering to be very rewarding. The products I design may not cure the condition of the user but they improve lives immensely and that in itself is extremely satisfying.

8. How do you think young women could be better educated about opportunities in engineering?

In my opinion, qualified women engineers should be going into schools and talking to students aged 14 upwards, educating them about which subjects they need to pass and what to study at A Level for the best chance of pursuing an engineering career. I think it would also be beneficial for qualified women engineers to visit colleges and sixth forms to educate the students on engineering degrees and explain the opportunities available to them once they finish their studies.

When studying for my degree, I was one of only three women in a class of 50. During my Post-Grad, there was just me and one other woman out of 25 students. I would love to think the stereotype of engineering being a man’s profession will be quashed in the coming years.

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