We recently heard from Louise Knowles about her day-to-day role as a project manager in our technical services team. In part two of her blog, and to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Louise talks about her career journey within STEM, from an engineer in the Royal Air Force to a project manager within defence. Plus, how as a STEM ambassador she now inspires young people, especially girls, to pursue their goals and ambitions.
I joined one of Inzpire’s project management teams in January 2023 to support the surge in requirements coming into the business as a result of the company’s growth.
I’ve worked as a project manager within the defence industry for eight years and I feel extremely lucky to have ended up working at Inzpire; in a fantastic job working for an extremely supportive and exciting company.
My journey to this role started at 12-years old when I made the decision to join the RAF. As with a lot of children, I wanted to be a pilot and at age 13 I joined the local air cadets. At age 16 I took my AS levels and unfortunately failed. But all was not lost. After a short conversation with the corporal in the Armed Forces Careers Office, I realised there were so many more careers within the RAF, and I quickly chose to pursue an engineering career and applied for an apprenticeship in Aircraft Mechanical Engineering. That decision came about from what I thought at the time was failure, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That was in September 2001.
In December 2001, I left on the train to start my new life and begin my basic training. During the 18 months of training, I worked hard, and I had a lot to learn. I’d never really done engineering before other than helping my brother fix his motorbike. In trade training, I was on a course of 16 with only two other females. I was regularly told that I lacked confidence, but I didn’t lack motivation (some would call it stubbornness). I really enjoyed the phase we called “hacking and bashing”, learning sheet metal work and manufacturing skin repairs for a mock wing in case I ever had to repair an aircraft that had been damaged. That was the turning point for my confidence growing.
In the RAF, I got to travel and experience lots of new opportunities
I had a great instructor who took time to talk me through new concepts and different ways of working to achieve the end goal, which meant I found the way that worked for me. In May 2003 I moved to RAF Leuchars in Scotland for my first posting, working on a squadron that trained the aircrew in their last phase of training before being fully-fledged fast jet pilots on Tornado F3s. Within my military career I only had three different postings, but I learned so much, not just about aircraft and engineering but also about life and the world. I got to travel and experience things I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise, like a thank you gift of a backseat flight in a Tornado F3, or working at the Olympics, and getting tickets to watch events. I also spent a fair few months in California and Las Vegas too!
I moved into an instructor role to teach and assess other technicians to service and maintain Tornado GR4s. UK MOD © Crown copyright 2022. Sgt Jimmy Wise
I had an amazing 12 years and 7 months in the RAF as an airframe and mechanical technician mainly working on fast jets. In 2007, I completed a multiskilling course to enable me to carry out maintenance and rectification of propulsion systems, which changed my trade from airframe technician to aircraft technician (mechanical). In around 2012 after four years on 41 Test and Evaluation Squadron, I moved into an instructor role to teach and assess other technicians to service and maintain Tornado GR4s.
When I left the RAF in July 2014, I was pregnant, and I thought I wanted to move away from defence. By November 2015 I was working as a mechanical course designer, creating courseware for a Typhoon introduction course. Guess what? It turned out I missed doing what I’d done for my whole adult life! It was a whole new job and something entirely different to what I’d done previously, but I could still use my 12 years of technical experience.
Now, as a project manager in the technical services team at Inzpire, I still use my technical knowledge, and my RAF experience does help me in this role, but it certainly isn’t a prerequisite. For me, I feel I took the right route, sometimes accidentally and sometimes deliberately, to now be settled in my career. As a woman in a STEM workplace, it’s been difficult at times in the past, especially when posted somewhere new. It sometimes felt like there was uncertainty as to how I’d be able to ‘hold my own’ in a male environment, but it was always good to prove them wrong.
The biggest tip I can give to anyone who wants to succeed in a STEM career is to persevere
This is one of the reasons I volunteer as a STEM Ambassador. I like to encourage all children of all ages and abilities to consider a career in STEM, but I do like to take more time to show younger girls that we can do just as much as the boys can. STEM careers are no longer looked at as ‘male jobs’; they’re there for whoever is the best person to do that job. I’ve also worked alongside the Jon Egging Trust (JET) with children from different backgrounds, some being more vulnerable children, helping to encourage and inspire them to believe in themselves and to show them just how much they can achieve in life.
From my own experiences working in STEM, training technicians, teaching children, and bringing up my son, the biggest tip I can give to anyone who wants to succeed in a STEM career is to persevere. There will be difficult days and there will be times it feels like it’s going wrong, but trust yourself, believe in yourself and know that you’re good enough. Joining clubs and groups is always a great way to develop those skills and build confidence. Joining the local air or army cadets, even if you don’t want to join the military, gives you a boost of independence and the opportunity to grow in your personal development.
Head to our STEM page to find out how we’re helping to support the future generations of a STEM based workforce at Inzpire.
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