Inspiring the next generation of women engineers

This year’s International Women in Engineering Day celebrates innovators and inventors and United Utilities is celebrating with its own female engineers who are finding solutions to some of society’s big environmental challenges such as climate change mitigation and the water industry’s drive for Net Zero Carbon by 2030.

United Utilities Chief Engineer (Innovation) Lisa Mansell is responsible for finding new technologies to help solve issues like lowering carbon emissions and reducing the impact on the environment, to name a few. She’s also passionate about inspiring the next generation of female engineers and she spent the day meeting young would-be engineers at the Academy of St Nicholas in Garston, Liverpool.

“It’s so important to spread the word about the career opportunities available in engineering as women still only make up a small percentage of the workforce.

“Many girls at school still don’t even consider a career in engineering, or can’t see themselves working in it, and that’s such a pity as it offers fabulous opportunities to work on exciting projects that can really make a difference in society.”

Lisa, from Chester began her career in process science assessing water quality and biology as a process technician. Supported by United Utilities, Lisa went on to complete a Master’s Degree and an Engineering for Scientists course which allowed her to make the transition into engineering.

Lisa and her Engineering Innovation team are working on various projects to transform the way United Utilities looks after water and wastewater. These include evaluating alternative technologies and approaches, such as removing phosphorus from wastewater through the revolutionary use of algae, adsorptive medias and electro-coagulation; increasing water industry resilience and reducing our carbon footprint; and a 3D concrete printing project to evaluate the potential of using robotics in construction to increase efficiency and reduce the carbon associated with concrete. Lisa also leads circular economy projects exploring ways to recover valuable resources from treatment processes such as hydrogen from biogas generated when sludge is processed, or the extraction of biopolymers from wastewater that could potentially be re-used in a wide range of commercial products.

United Utilities offers various routes into engineering careers. Rebecca Shields, from Liverpool is a senior process engineer who joined the business as a graduate in 2016. Following her degree, she spent three years on the graduate program working across various parts of the business.

Rebecca has been involved with commissioning several innovation projects such as installations of Nereda - the latest generation of a biological process to treat wastewater. She has also recently worked on the evaluation of an innovative water and wastewater sludge dewatering technology known as Volute which offers power savings of 84% helping us to make our operations more efficient.

Rebecca said: “I’ve been fortunate to be involved in so many interesting and varied projects, and these have helped me achieve chartered status quite early in my career.

“Although women are far more present in engineering than they've ever been, I think there's still work to be done to better advertise it as a career path to help all students understand how much engineers are involved in and the role they are playing in helping solve the increasing challenges facing the planet.”

Charlotte Cottam from Halewood joined United Utilities as an apprentice 10 years ago, now in her role as an Electrical Network Asset Engineer she looks after more than 400 sites and no two days are the same. She explained: “Every day is a new challenge with various problems to solve. Anything from breakdowns to upgrades and trialling new equipment.

“I’ve also been involved with several large projects like upgrading pumping stations and other assets and I hope my next step will be into a project engineer role. I love working in this field and it is great to see more women making a difference in engineering all over the world.”

Holly Grant from Manchester is a Geoenvironmental Engineer and is involved with risk assessments and protecting groundwater assets. She joined United Utilities as a graduate after completing a degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in hydrogeology. During her career she’s been involved in a range of innovative projects ranging from digitising data to a decarbonisation roadmap with the Department of Business and Industrial Strategy.

Holly explained: “The findings of this study will hopefully guide actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our wastewater sites, and potentially lead to solutions being rolled out across the water industry. Knowing that everything we do at United Utilities contributes to protecting our environment and providing safe drinking water motivates me to work to the best of my ability.

“My advice to any young women considering a career in engineering is to be confident in your abilities and don’t be afraid to fail. Engineering is constantly evolving and everyone is learning all the time, there are so many career options available which use a wide variety of skills, including creative and personal, as well as technical.”

If you think a career in engineering could be for you, take a look at our jobs page.