I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Athersmith to hear her journey from apprentice to team member to find out what engineering means to her and how she’s adjusted to the world of work.
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What it means to be an engineer
As the Head of Distribution Systems for Siemens Smart Infrastructure, I am regularly able to speak to the talented members of our teams and talk through their personal journeys into Siemens. Discovering what has brought colleagues to Siemens, and into the field of engineering in general, is one of my many passions. Everybody’s experience of what it means to be an engineer is different, but I’m keen to hear these personal stories from our talented team to gain a better insight into the meaning for them.
This blog comes off the back of a podcast series where I aim to explore how the role of the engineer has changed and how, now more than ever, engineers are using technology to solve increasingly complex problems.
For this blog, I’m joined by Lauren Athersmith who began her career at Siemens as an apprentice after leaving school. I spoke to Lauren to hear more about her experience to date, what inspired her to get into engineering and what it’s really like to work at Siemens? Through the course of our conversation, Lauren shares the key role models who influence her career path and highlights how her apprenticeship has given her newfound confidence and skills.
How Lauren got started at Siemens
Jon Turner (JT): “Let’s go back to when you were 16, which is perhaps the first major crossroads in our lives. You’ve finished your first level of exams or are closing them off and then you’re moving into the next stage of your education. What particularly influenced you then?’’
Lauren (LA): “I was influenced by my dad at that point, after I’d just left school. My dad actually works at Siemens. I think he was probably my main career driver in terms of speaking to him and finding out what he does for work and what roles are available at Siemens. I think that’s where I’ve gotten my interest from.’’
JT: “Is it fair to say your dad was your main inspiration then? Was there anyone else at all, any teachers in particular, who were encouraging this pathway for you?’’
LA: “I did a Business Administration GCSE, which is how I ended up getting my apprenticeship in the end. That teacher was the one that brought the apprenticeship to us. I’d say he was pretty influential in convincing us that it’s probably a good avenue to go down.’’
JT: “Great. What about parents, guardians, I know you talked about your dad being a Siemens guy at that point, but what was your reaction of the people at home when you said that this was the pathway you wanted?’’
LA: “I think that both my parents agreed that learning on the job is quite beneficial. They were really happy for me, that if you don’t really like the traditional education route, that there are all these options available to progress.’’
JT: “Yeah, that’s brilliant, because if I take myself back to probably 16 or even 18, it was very clear that I wasn’t one of the traditional redbrick university applicants. I wasn’t cast aside but it was very much the lack of sponsorship or the sponsorship that was there previously had disappeared. I had great help from my parents as well to decide which university path to take and, regrettably, I took the wrong path the first time round only to come home with my tail between the legs. So from my experience I think the key thing is for everyone at that crucial period of your time, pathways can be very, very different and everyone learns and develops at different points, so that vocational learning on the job option deserves consideration.
How did you go down that path to get to Siemens and how easy was it to find out what was available in terms of apprenticeship availability?’’
LA: “I did a business admin apprenticeship. It was a bit of a different one really, it was the first-time they’ve done that sort of apprenticeship. They predominantly did engineering apprenticeships, of course. It was all very last minute as I was doing my GCSEs at the time during which Siemens came round to see if anyone would be interested in a business admin apprenticeship. It was all very good timing, really, as I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time. When I read the potential in the role and began thinking of working for a big company, I think my parents have always sort of encouraged me to go for it because it can open up so many extra doors.’’
Beginning her apprenticeship
JT: “So, you’re in your apprenticeship. I imagine you were wide–eyed and definitely noticing a change from your college routine. I bet you didn’t even know there were two seven o’clocks in the day! If you take your apprenticeship from what you know now versus back to that point, what’s your takeaway?’’
LA: “I think the main things I’ve learned are almost at a personal level, there’s been a lot of personal development, obviously going straight from school to a job. There was such a big difference in the way you talk to people and just general communication skills. I think that’s where I’ve developed certainly over the years.’’
JT: “How easy was that to have those good conversations, the ability to know what was available and what you needed to do to secure a longer term future in the company that you can select if you’re comfortable?‘’
LA: “It was quite easy, actually. My apprenticeship boss at the time, when I was coming towards the end of the apprenticeship, was really good and they even brought to our attention jobs within the wider Siemens world. It’s very much the case that they would like to keep you within the business. If that means you want to travel, there’s so many opportunities there. I think an apprenticeship is a really good opportunity for people that maybe don’t know what they want to do in the future because you’re not committed to that specific role, unlike when you are in a full time job. There is a chance to try different areas, to do different things.’’
JT: “Well, congratulations, you’ve navigated your apprenticeship and now you’re working within Siemens as a highly valued full-time member of the organisation and my business. Would it be possible just to share what you’re working on at the moment and what’s potentially in the pipeline for you to be working on in the near term, medium term from this point? ‘’
LA: “Yes, my work has predominantly been around the DS classic business, which is all our and the LV and MV products. For those that may not know, that’s medium voltage and low voltage switchgear. So there’s a lot of data centres and industrial sized buildings involved in the work. Now I’m doing quite a few Futuregrid projects, including our electric buses, electric cars and the big depots in London that they’re trying to build.’’
What’s next for Lauren at Siemens?
JT: “It’s come through in this conversation how passionate you are about what you do, which for me is brilliant. It’s music to my ears. But is there anything specific you want to share around the moments that you have real pride? What makes you proud at work and in your day-to-day duties?’’
LA: “I think the main thing I enjoy is the independence within the role. All the engineers work on their own projects and it’s very much on yourself to win that business, make these customer relationships. I think when I do see that customer relationship building, it’s a good feeling to think I’ve done this. This is this is my relationship with the customer. This is my idea that I’ve won.’’
JT: “Yeah. It is, honestly, I mean my background is in sales and still I have that positive of lifting the trophy of success, maybe less so about me now, more about seeing you guys do that. But there’s nothing like winning the order where you can see your own contribution come into life, it is great. Just reflecting back, what advice would you give to Lauren at 16?’’
LA: “Probably not to be so worried about the future. Again, in terms of the path that I pick now, isn’t the path that you need to follow forever. I think just pick what interests you and what you enjoy and just see where life takes you from there.’’
JT: “That’s really, really good advice. I’ve got one final question: If we go five years from now, where do you want to be in Siemens?’’
LA: “It’s a good question. A lot of the time I don’t really know where it’s going to take me. I think at the moment I’d like to work towards a senior position and get a lot more confident in my role. But I don’t know whether that’s going to be five years or 10.’’
JT: “I think you’ve got to take it from me to take these opportunities to stretch yourself and to be brave and to continue to develop so that you get those opportunities to be a success, but also to fail and to get the bumps and the scars of maybe not being perfect, because I think it’s those that make you even stronger when new opportunities come around. It’s these experiences that you’ll love to tell and the experiences to share with the people that you would eventually be responsible for and ultimately be that coach and mentor figure as well. We look forward to supporting you in your aspirations, Lauren.
“I want to close by saying thank you so much for sharing some time with me today and sharing your experiences and your interesting time so far, navigating post school into Siemens. We look forward to helping you out in the next phase of your career.”
For more information on apprenticeship opportunities at Siemens, please visit: www.siemens.co.uk/apprenticeships