YSA Alumni Spotlight – Gemma Ridgway

Posted by Gemma Ridgway | Wed, 21 Oct 2020

We recently caught up with Gemma, one of our fantastic YSA Alumni. We asked her about her STEM journey, including her YSA experience and her experience of working in the male-dominated world of Engineering.

Setting the scene:

Which secondary school did you attend?  Aylsham High School

When did you complete your Youth STEMM Award and at what level?  4 years ago and bronze

What did you go on to study and where?  I went into a mechanical engineering advanced apprenticeship

What is your current role and who do you work for?  I am a Level 3 mechanical technician, and I work for Penspen

Which area(s) of STEMM do you most relate to in your work? Engineering

Exploring the career:

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The freedom of travelling about and meeting new people. The daily challenges I face are always different, you always get a sense of accomplishment whenever you’ve achieved or learnt something new.

What is a day in your life at work like? 

My day normally starts around 5am depending on my location for the day. The furthest I’ve travelled so far is Nottingham to Luton for a job. I do maintenance on both underground and above ground gas regulators. These basically reduce the pressure on the mains supply so it is suitable to travel through a house meter. I have to test the safety devices on each stream. This normally consists of two streams, a standby and a worker. Other days I can be spending my time overhauling and stripping the regulators down giving them a good service inside and out or I’m on power stations or factories maintaining and repairing their supply’s. On a busy day I can get home very late.

What are your plans for the future?

I’d love to head to management as it was such a struggle for me when I first started as an apprentice. Once there I’d like to show other girls that they can do it too and to help them through the challenges they will face. I also like helping make systems better and providing suggestions on improvements.

According to the WISE Campaign, only 9% of engineers are women. What has your experience been like working in such a male-dominated industry?

I started my apprenticeship in 2016. A 16 year old female who was the first in East Anglia to do this particular apprenticeship. Everyday was a struggle, a lot of the men in the industry didn’t believe I should be there. I always kept my head down and worked as hard as I possibly could to prove to them that I could do it. Nothing was ever handed to me at all, I had to do all my work off my own back. It was only in my last year of training that those same people realised I did know my stuff and I got extra support and help and passed all my assessments. The proudest day for me was at my end of apprenticeship ceremony. I realised that although those 4 years were hard it’s made me a better and stronger person, it’s made me who I am now, a confident young lady who’s proving that women can do this job.

Thinking about work and training, what is the biggest challenge you have faced or obstacle you have had to overcome?

I think the main challenge was I tried to fit in all the time to be accepted into the industry which now that I think about was never what I needed to do. Training was hard I was always putting in double the effort I had to, hence why I aimed for a double distinction star in my college course and I achieved it. Another challenge was being so young. I was away from home a lot in hotels or at training centres and it was hard, I couldn’t rely on my mum anymore, I had to learn to grow up and look after myself. It’s never been smooth sailing with engineering, but the more ladies that get into it the better it will be for the next person.

YSA and You:

Why did you get involved with the YSA in the first place?  It was recommended to me by my high school teacher.

What was the best thing about taking part in the YSA?  It brought so much opportunity to gain experience and knowledge on each aspect of STEMM and also helped me to become a stronger person.

What did taking part in the YSA help you to achieve?  I gained a lot of confidence and knowledge of engineering and the opportunities out there.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self?  Never give up, great things will always happen you just have to work hard.

What piece of advice would you give to young people of today?  It’s always going to be hard to find the career you love. But the opportunity that the Youth STEMM Award gives is incredible because you can gain so much experience. Also keep pushing and working hard and you’ll achieve your dreams.

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