Celebrating Women in Engineering

Today is the International Women in Engineering Day. And we wanted to bring you a personal story from our Assembly Manager Karen Dawson here at CMbE


My name is Karen Dawson, I have been employed by CMbE for 16 months now and can honestly say I enjoy my job.

So how did I get into engineering? From a child I was always interested in building things, such as homemade skateboards, go-carts and tree houses. Nothing was more pleasing then seeing how things go together and having something that worked and you could have fun with. Life goes on and you start to grow up. I left school and did not really know what job I wanted to do, I ended up training to be a florist. From designing and making wedding bouquets to wreaths for funerals, bouquets for Valentine’s Day and mothering Sunday were all part of my job. I stayed in the role of a florist until the shop was sold and the owner changed the trade so I left to pursue a career in a different line.

I bought my first car, which was a Mini, I was hooked by the Mini Bug. I started to go to Mini shows and admired what people were doing with their Mini’s from fitting bigger engines, sports pack arches, body kits and changing the interior. This really interested me so I started looking into changing the engine in my Mini and read the manual on how to do it. I rented a small lock up and bought some tools, my first project was changing the engine from 1000cc to 1380cc. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears, I changed my engine out and could not wait to get in and take it for a spin. After completing the engine change, I knew I wanted to get into engineering. Seeing things stripped down and put back together really pleased me. I got great satisfaction from doing this and it drove me to get into engineering. My Mini projects progressed to changing drive shafts and hubs so I could put 13” wheels on my Mini, then I was cutting bodywork to take the bigger wheels and sports pack arches, body kits were brought and fitted, as were new interiors. To do all this I had to get a new job so I gained employment in an engineering factory where they made the plastic boxes that went under milk floats and in trains to store the batteries.

I worked a CNC miller where I had to do some program changing, set tooling and the milling out of templates for the battery boxes. I set and ran the machine, which made the battery boxes, and this was my first taste of proper engineering. I moved on from this company to work for Dunlop Tyres. This was the first time Dunlop tyres had employed a woman on the shop floor. When I went to work at this company, it was strange to begin with, there was a belief that the women would not last, that they would not be able to do the work. Most of the women did stay for a while, all but two left. I stayed and learnt all the jobs on the shop floor. I could make all types of tyres and meet the targets on the machines. I learnt how to repair faulty tyres and in the end, there was no job I could not do. A supervisor’s job came up and I applied for it. I went through the interview and  testing and was successful in getting the role. I was the first woman supervisor to be employed by Dunlop tyres, something I was extremely proud of, I had worked hard to get to that position. I stayed at Dunlop tyres for about 5 years then moved into the car industry.

I worked for BMW, running part of their track building cars, I learnt a lot there. Engineering cars is not as straight forward as you would think. I saw the issues from design, rectification, training and build, from not being able to keep line speed to customers stopping the line with late deliveries. I really enjoyed my time at BMW but left to pursue a career on the other side where I became a manager of the production line that fed cockpits, door trims and tailgate trims straight into BMW. I stayed as a manager supplying BMW for a few years but wanted to get into heavy engineering so I went to work as a manager at Cameron’s OneSubsea. This was very different to what I was used to, heavy engineering with machine tolerances to what we work to here at CMbE. Cranes lifting finished work to a 100-ton capacity. Building valves and hydro testing them to see if they leaked. Fitters having to build valves from engineering drawings came to me if there were issues on the builds. Rectification of failed valves to engineering guide lines etc. This work really kept my interest and everyday was something new. There were no other women on the shop floor to begin with but as time went on one or two female apprentices came through which was really nice to see. I moved on to Weir Valves, which was the same type of work as OneSubsea. I left Weir Valves to come to CMbE.

I believe there is a place in engineering for woman. I think if you are keen and interested and have the right training you can do any job you want to. Times have changed and woman do need to work so why not in engineering? When you look around, all things need to be engineered and assembled in some shape or form so it really is a job for life. I really enjoy working in the engineering sector and would openly encourage more woman to seriously look at it for a career move.