Meet Samantha, Associate Director for Health Safety at Faithful+Gould, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group. Here she's pictured as a child, helping her dad with the lawnmower and 50 years later working with a Chinese client working on a nuclear project.
You'd be forgiven for assuming she got to where she is today the traditional way: a good education, O-Levels, A-Levels, University, and many Engineering work placements. But, things are not always what they seem. Here's Samantha's story in her own words:
"A series of unfortunate and fortunate opportunities."
This is probably what defines my career journey more accurately. I'm a girl from the '60s when many things that would now be seen as normal opportunities were not open to me as a young woman. Things were very different then. And although it doesn't seem that long ago, it was a time when boys were boys and girls were expected to be girls.
My parents didn't believe things had to be that black and white.
They encouraged me to get involved in stuff that would traditionally be in my brother's domain. My father had been in the forces as an aircraft engineer, and he was a member of a gliding club, diving club, cycled and rode motorbikes. That was the side of life I found fascinating, and although I did go to ballet lessons for a while, it was not my thing. I really wanted to be a truck driver.
My dream was to become an aircraft engineer.
By the time I got to my teens, my intention was to join the RAF to set my career along that path. However, this was not an opportunity that was available to a girl in 1980. I could join the RAF but in an administrative role only. There seemed no reason whatsoever to join the forces to be a secretary. This was the first unfortunate event that directed my career.
I left school at 16 and got an administrative job in London.
Other similar jobs went under the bridge until I received an offer I could not turn down. Marriage to a soldier would be exciting, and I'd get to travel the world! Things are rarely that predictable, are they? So no, I didn't see much of the world, and any thought of a career was put on hold with two children and regular postings.
I was never going to be a stay-at-home mum...
I made boxes in a cardboard factory, delivered food around army bases in a van, worked in a pub on split shifts and sold very expensive nick-nacks to tourists in Stratford-on-Avon.
How I got into my current career
When the boys started school full time, I was able to commit to regular working hours. I started working for the PSA (Property Services Agency) who managed all the construction and maintenance work for government assets. It developed into a rewarding way to spend my days.
Entering the world of health & safety
While I was at the PSA, a new set of legislation came into being and little did I know how important it would be to me going forward. My boss returned from a training day and made me put together a series of lever arch files for every one of our projects: Design Risk Assessment, Pre Tender H&S Plan, Construction Phase Plan, Health & Safety.
Paperwork v passion
He set up a bureaucratic system of paperwork in response to the Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 1994. Nearly 30 years later, I'm still fighting to stop this being about paper and trying to get people to understand the real spirit of CDM. I may die trying.
I took every opportunity that came my way.
I was involved in all sorts of projects. I met some people during that employment that I am still in contact with. I feel lucky to have been given opportunities that, based on qualifications alone, should not have come in my direction.
A promising new start
Later in the '90s, the PSA dissolved. It had to fight for work against private companies and could not compete. I successfully applied for a job at Ringway Highways Services, which was setting up a depot just outside my village.
Facing discrimination as a woman
It was just one guy working out of an orange portacabin in the corner of a yard and me. He didn't like the fact he'd been presented with a female assistant and avoided giving me any work at all. He'd leave the office for most of the day, going out on site, and I thought I had made the worst decision of my life.
I developed a role for myself that I was happy with.
I took advantage of the fact that he wasn't interested in what I did as long as he could get on with his work. So, I introduced myself to colleagues from other depots, including the Consulting Engineer and The Client. I learned who was who, what they did, and what they needed. It became clear that the interface between us as a Contractor and the Consulting Engineer was not good, and communication was poor. I took it upon myself to bridge that gap.
A career-changing opportunity
My initiative paid off. I was soon offered an opportunity to earn Highways qualifications via Bath University as distance learning. I'll always be grateful to Brian Moore, Director at Ringway, for seeing my potential and giving me a chance. I passed my exams and won the Tarmac Roadstone Trophy for Best results. This, despite working full time, commuting between Cambridge and Ipswich and having two children under eight!
An offer I could not refuse
I loved working for Ringway, out and about across the Area-6 East Anglia trunk roads, working with the guys on the ground, liaising with subbies and managing costings. After about three years, Atkins, Consulting Engineer for the contract, asked me to come on board to manage the Area-6 bridge inspections.
I felt torn, but it was my time to move on.
I saw myself as a Contractor and really wasn't sure I'd fit in well into a Consultant role. I decided that having the consultant role on my CV for a few years wasn't bad, and I could then revert to what I was comfortable with. 20 years later, I'm still here.
What keeps me at Atkins
The joy of Atkins has been the vast array of opportunities that have presented themselves. I've worked for Highways & Transportation, Design & Engineering, Infrastructure, Energy, Defence, Communications, Nuclear and now for Faithful + Gould.
Developing in areas that interest me
With every opportunity and every move, I've learned new things and expanded my knowledge. I now specialise in developing strategies and culture to help clients deliver safety throughout the design and building of major infrastructure projects.
I love being part of great projects.
Over the last seven years, most of my work has been with overseas designers in the UK new nuclear build industry. This has been extremely rewarding and comes on the back of being part of the London 2012 delivery team. I thoroughly enjoy the work I do!
Always look for potential in people. Always be open to opportunity.
Sometimes I still wonder how I got here. I'm lucky to have crossed paths with some great individuals who saw my potential and gave me opportunities, without whom I would not be here today.
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