Construction Equipment Great Britain

Not just for boys - part three

In the last not just for boys blog post we met Jess Limer who is building a strong career for herself and enjoying every step of the way. In this post we meet Helena, an apprentice engineer who has just begun her career by joining the team in Duxford. Amy and Lucy Metcalfe met with Helena to find out more…


Helena began her apprenticeship in June and from a very young age had known that she wanted a career in a hands-on industry. Before beginning her apprenticeship at Volvo CE she worked for a time in Cambridge marking exam papers and also at a vehicle recycling centre dismantling cars while researching different jobs in the car and aeronautical industries.

Although Helena hadn’t been aware of this type of role before, she had always had an interest in farm machinery so it’s not totally alien to her. Helena comments: “Engineering and being practical is great and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. The construction industry is under-estimated as people don’t realise what it takes to run so many projects and behind all these projects are the machines. It’s amazed me to see the range of machines available”

Helena had applied for a few apprenticeships and decided to visit Volvo unannounced to ask if there were any jobs available. Someone from HR was available to talk to Helena and explained that although she didn’t have the qualifications for the job she was looking for, the company offered apprenticeships and were looking to recruit more. During the interview process Volvo saw how thoroughly committed she was to working in engineering and offered Helena a place. Helena comments: “Opportunities are there if you are willing to go out and look for them and if you want something you have to make it happen which is why I thought I’d try just asking if there were any jobs. When I saw the opportunities that were being offered to me in the apprenticeship I knew there was no way I could pass this up.”

When Helena joined the company she spent a week with all the other apprentices on an Outward Bound adventure week. “It was daunting going there and not knowing anyone else but we were all communicative and supportive of each other. It was a great week, especially for me as I love being outdoors and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again when I go to college at the end of October.”

Helena-600x400-webHelena spent the majority of her first weeks with one other engineer and believes that this helped her to build up knowledge about tools, different machines and helped her to feel useful. Helena says: “Everyone has their own nuances and it’s great to pick up on the techniques of others. Yesterday I was working on a variety of machines with different people, I’m able to get involved in everything which is really enjoyable. Everyone is very happy to spend time with me and teach what they know.” When asked what Helena finds most difficult in the role she replied; “Asking questions has always been tough for me and I feel like I’m asking questions all the time but I am realising that it only means you learn more. It is a good habit to get into and will allow me to become more independent.”

Growing up Helena frequently travelled to Devon for family holidays throughout the summer which is where her passion for farming machinery began. “They are everywhere you go in Devon!” A lot of time was spent building go-karts out of scrap bits of wood and metal and she would always be found dismantling something which is what sparked her interest in wanting to work with machinery. Helena comments: “People don’t know what it takes to be a mechanic and to run the machines, people underestimate construction like this.”

Outside of engineering Helena also volunteers as a Scout leader; “The scouts find it weird that I have the job that I do. I hope that it can become more accepted as a career path for young people and especially women. There’s no reason why anyone should be put off, everyone I work with is very friendly and I think my job is amazing!”

We asked Helena if there were any disadvantages to being a female engineer; “Being smaller than the majority of my co-workers has slight disadvantages - I’m always having to get my overalls turned up so they don’t drag on the floor! However, this has advantages too as I’m able to climb into the smaller spaces that some of my colleagues struggle to get into. Apart from that, there’s no real difference between me and my colleagues. When I first joined I think people were surprised by what I do. A couple of people commented ‘Oh, you’re actually getting stuck in?’ and I am and I love it!”

Phil Cooper, Workshop Supervisor at Duxford comments: “Helena has only been with us for a few months but is already settling into the role of apprentice engineer really well. She’s always keen to learn and take part in all aspects of the work involved in being an engineer, from basic inspections to assisting with major component rebuilds. With the experience both Helena and all the other apprentice engineers will gain completing the full Volvo Apprenticeship Programme she will be well on her way to becoming an experienced and valued member of the workshop team in the future.”

Missed part one?
Read here
Jessica Limer - 2324x1200 - hero
Missed part two?
Read here
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