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#INWED21: How an engineering apprenticeship opened opportunities across the world

As part of our #INWED21 sponsorship, we spoke with Sinead Watson, Emergency Response and Security Lead at TAQA, who began her engineering career 22 years ago as part of the first OGTAP Modern Apprenticeship intake.


Can you tell us a little bit about your career journey so far?

After leaving school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I ended up going to college to study electrical engineering and it was only by chance that I came across an advert for the OGTAP Modern Apprenticeship scheme – the day before applications closed!

I was accepted onto the programme and spent the next four years training across a whole range of disciplines. I was fortunate enough to be placed on the Dunlin Alpha platform during my training, operated by Shell at that time, and was kept on after completing my apprenticeship as a Senior Operations Technician.

At the end of 2006, I moved into an onshore health and safety role. After being a safety rep offshore, I discovered that this was where my passion truly lay. After working as a safety advisor with Shell for two years, its assets were bought by TAQA. I continued as a safety advisor and in 2012, I was given the chance to work with the global HSSE team. As an international energy and water company, this opportunity allowed me to work across the oil & gas, and power & water industries. I spent time working in Morocco, Canada and the Netherlands and worked closely with health and safety teams in India, Ghana, Iraq and the UAE.

Following this, I returned to a role in the UK business moving into my current role as Emergency Response and Security Lead. The past 18 months have been very busy, with a major part of my role being devoted to dealing with the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on TAQA’s operations.

What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

For me, it was more about knowing what I didn’t want to do. I knew I didn’t want to go into a traditionally female dominated role, which were careers that were encouraged at the time.

As I said before, I left school unsure of what to do but I was very practically minded and wanted to go down the vocational route, as university didn’t appeal to me. It was pure luck that I came across the apprenticeship programme, which seemed like the perfect fit for me as I could focus on making a career out of something I really enjoyed.

The apprenticeship was a great way for me to gain the knowledge and hands-on experience I needed and led to so many other opportunities because the skills were transferable across roles and industries!

What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?

I would have to say the ability to work with international teams. Being given the opportunity to bring together senior managers from a range of business units, cultures and industries was a challenge but extremely rewarding!

It also allowed me to work with teams out with the North Sea region and discover new challenges I hadn’t dealt with before. Finding solutions to problems is something I always find really satisfying. It’s great to then be able to share these learnings with the UK and other teams around world.

Another element of my career I’m proud of would be the work I’ve done to support TAQA in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. I played an important role ensuring that we could continue to operate in the safest way possible for our employees and wider society.

How have you found the experience of being a woman working in a traditionally male-dominated industry?

When I began my apprenticeship in 1999, I was the only female in my class. At the time, it was hard not to see myself as the token female. To start with, I often questioned whether I would have to work harder to prove myself and be taken seriously because it wasn’t the norm to be a female in this environment.

However, OPITO and Shell helped me to overcome this, and I started to believe in my ability as an engineer. The support available from both women and men in the industry is endless and there will always be someone willing to mentor you – everyone just wants to see you succeed!

Speaking to other women in the industry who were going through a similar process was also helpful. There are now so many networks that focus on supporting female engineers and provide information and guidance to those looking to begin their careers.

As I have progressed throughout my career, I have noticed that there is no longer a stigma attached to women entering traditionally male-dominated industries like engineering. I’ve seen the preconceptions around these sectors break down and organisations are keen to encourage more women into these roles.

People are no longer treated differently because of their gender and if you’re willing to put the work in, you’ve got as much right to be there as anyone else. There is a real opportunity right now and I think it’s the perfect time for women to join the industry and become successful engineers.

What advice would you give to young women thinking about a career in engineering?

I would say go for it! If you have a goal and are willing to put the work in, you’ll find a way to achieve it. Being a woman should never be the thing that holds you back.

If you have reservations, what are they? If you can figure out what’s holding you back, you can address it. If you’re unsure, reach out to those who have been through the process and get some first-hand advice. You should never be afraid to ask for information, most people will be happy to help.

I would always suggest looking for a mentor, and if someone offers, grab the opportunity with both hands. The support and guidance will be invaluable in helping you navigate the industry.

Overall, I would say just do what makes you happy. Pick the school subjects or college courses that you enjoy, rather than focusing on an end career or what other people may think. That’s how you’ll end up in the perfect role for you. It worked for me.

Find out more about International Women in Engineering Day, here:

Or discover the engineering careers available to young women in the energy sector at